To the Editor:
It seems to me that there is a very easy way to obviate some of the problems with the No Child Left Behind Act, and that is to simply redefine the notion of “grade level.” Why shouldn’t we determine grade level (which is an arbitrary and artificial construct anyway) not in terms of chronological age, but in terms of a student’s actual level of achievement?
Clearly, a student could be at different grade levels from subject to subject. But if curricula were constructed in such a way that students could move through subjects at relatively independent paces, achieving “certifications” as they mastered given bodies of knowledge, I don’t see that as being a problem. It is exactly what we do within certain realms of the corporate world, such as information technology or human resources.
We need to decouple the notion of academic progress from its present lock-step relationship to chronological age. If we can do this, I believe we can strip the people presently trying to cripple public education by means of the NCLB law of their most potent tool, while still allowing educators to be evaluated on their effectiveness and establishing realistic standards for student progress.
A version of this article appeared in the October 31, 2007 edition of Education Week as Progress, ‘Grade Level,’ And Chronological Age