Ed-Tech Policy Letter to the Editor

Individualized Instruction Is the Way Forward for Schools

April 16, 2012 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

The retention problem (“Data Show Retention Disparities,” March 7, 2012) has its origins in the development of the age-grading system, which began in the late 1830s to cope with the rising population of immigrant children.

Schools were organized by age-based grades, and promotion from grade to grade was contingent on external examinations. These proved unreliable by 1900, and schools later began to use achievement-test scores to rationalize promotion decisions. Educators of the early 20th century discussed the “overage” problem because between 20 percent and 50 percent of all American children were two or more years behind age in grade placement. Many were immigrant children with poor English-language skills. Research has shown that leaving children back did no good, and often did actual harm.

The early-20th-century development of achievement tests with age norms and measurement in terms of years and months of achievement simply reified the concept of 3rd grade, or 5th grade, “achievement.” Reporting test scores in years and months of progress was a marketing coup by test publishers. The scores mean nothing more than a specified number of right answers on a certain test. Criterion-referenced testing does not change the issue. Age-grading is not God-given.

The age-grading system is wrong in its assumption that all children must learn at exactly the same rate. We are on the verge of a technological revolution. We can solve the 150-year-old retention problem by unburdening ourselves of age grading and by truly individualizing instruction.

With the guidance of a teacher, we can enable children to progress at individual rates, thus avoiding the shame, the assault to self-esteem, the stigma, and the risk of dropping out attendant upon being publicly left back.

Murray Levine and Adeline Levine

Professors Emeriti

State University of New York at Buffalo

Buffalo, N.Y.

A version of this article appeared in the April 18, 2012 edition of Education Week as Individualized Instruction Is the Way Forward for Schools


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attend to the Whole Child: Non-Academic Factors within MTSS
Learn strategies for proactively identifying and addressing non-academic barriers to student success within an MTSS framework.
Content provided by Renaissance
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Ed-Tech Policy Q&A Why Many Schools' Strict Cellphone Policies May Not Go Far Enough
A national advocacy group says schools need all-day bans on devices.
6 min read
Young girl using a cellphone in class. On her desk is an open notebook and a pencil.
skynesher / iStock/Getty
Ed-Tech Policy Q&A How the FCC Wants to Tackle the 'Homework Gap'
The FCC approved an expansion of the E-rate program to include Wi-Fi hotspots.
4 min read
Student at computer from home, doing school work with  wifi connection icon images overlaying image.
Liz Yap/Education Week and E+/Getty.
Ed-Tech Policy Can Schools and Vendors Work Together Constructively on AI? A New Guide May Help
A top priority is greater transparency about how AI-driven products are designed and tested.
4 min read
Ed-Tech Policy Tracker Which States Ban or Restrict Cellphones in Schools?
See which states are requiring cellphone restrictions or bans in schools.
cellphone distraction policy bans in schools static
Laura Baker/Education Week via canva