The Case for Continuous Progress for Students in Grades k – 12

On March 21, 2013, I posted the following comments on the “Get Schooled” blog of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution regarding the need for a continuous progress educational design in public schools. The following is an example of what happened when one school system in Georgia set up a standard for all 8th grade students which all of the 8th grade students could not possibly meet, thereby setting up many 8th grade students for failure. Read below for the details.
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‘I have mentioned before on this blog that about seven years ago, the DeKalb School System had decided that all 8th students would be required to take an algebra course. I had realized at the time I had read that announcement that a large number of those 8th grade students would fail that algrebra course because, based on my educational background, I knew that many of those 8th graders would have been misplaced in that course. The instructional design, itself, in other words, was faulty. I was aware, from my instructional background, that not all of those 8th grade students would have been ready to take algebra in the 8th grade. That decision to take algebra should have been an individual decision regarding the 8th grade students and not a decision for ALL of the 8th grade students.

As it turned out, at the end of that school year, between 1/2 and 2/3s of those 8th grade students had failed that 8th grade algebra requirement. Whose fault was that? Was it the students’ fault that they were misplaced instructionally? Was it the teachers’ fault that they were mandated to teach a course over the heads of between 1/2 and 2/3s of the students in eighth grade? Was it the fault of the school administrators who were required to carry out a countywide decision? Where did this bad decision come from? Did it come from the county’s Department of Instruction? If so, I do not believe those instructional supervisors were aware of where the 8th grade students in the schools were actually functioning? Did that bad decision come from the county’s Board of Education? If so, then that Board of Education must not have been composed of enough members who had been educators with a background in instruction, grades 1 – 12. Did that bad decision come from parents who had pressured the school system to raise the standards of course work in 8th grade so that ALL of the students would be better prepared for college preparation courses in high school? If so, then those parents had not been well informed about a mathematics curriculum continuum, nor about the individual variances of students’ academic growth and development, nor that students will learn curriculum content at variable rates.

But, I am not into blaming anyone or any group. I want to share with others – parents, teachers, and administrators, as well as members of Boards of Education, and even legislators – what I know to be true, instructionally, so that others can learn from my experiences in education. My principal who had designed his continuous progress, multiaged model school had earned a Doctorate in Instructional Education, and he had been the school system’s Associate Superintendent of Instruction before he became the principal of his model school in order to put his knowledge of instruction into action. I was the beneficiary of his instructional knowledge, and I helped him to implement successfully his continuous progress, mastery learning school design, for grades/years-in-school 1 – 7, for almost a decade.

“Where there is a will to do something, one will find a way to do it.” First, however, one must be aware of basic truths about instruction. The basic truth about instruction is this: Students cannot learn – and they will fail – if they are not placed on, and taught on, their precise instructional levels in grades 1 – 12.”

http://maryelizabethsings.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/about-education-essay-1-mastery-learning/

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On March 15, 2013, I posted the following comments on the “Get Schooled” blog of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution regarding the continuous progress of academic advancement as an instructional alternative to retaining students or to sending failing students into the next grade level to cope with academic requirements to which they have not been prepared, commonly known as “social promotion.” In a continuous progress instructional design, students would advance to their next year-in-school with their age peers, but they would be assigned to the specific instructional levels, in each area of the curriculum, on which they could function even if those instructional levels were below the levels held by the majority of their peers in the same grade/year in school. This is known as a “continuous progress” instructional design. To envision this instructional design, consider that it is similar to advancing up a ladder, but this would be a ladder of the curriculum continuum from first grade through twelfth grade, with each student advancing up the ladder at his or her own individual pace for mastery of the curriculum to be achieved, irrespective of grade level demarcations. Below are the comments which I wrote to another poster who had asked me about this instructional issue.
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“You seem to perceive that the instructional options for students who have ‘failed’ a grade level are limited either to retention or to ‘social promotion.’ There is another option and that option is an instructional design based on the continuous progress of curriculum options in each grade in which students may advance – to their maximum ability to advance –each year in school without being retained. That is not social promotion because students continue to advance academically even though they may be instructionally below or beneath the ‘norm’ for their peers. They do not become more and more frustrated in grade level curriculum which is too difficult for them for them to master, which ‘social promotion’ would create.

I do not believe retention is the answer for students who are behind their peers academically because those same students would probably have to be retained a second or even a third time, thereby creating a situation in which those retained students would dislike going to school more and more because they would feel more and more inadequate.

If schools continue to have an instructional delivery system in which grade level curriculum is delivered in only twelve lock-step gradients and all students are expected to master that curriculum at the same rate, then the instructional delivery system, itself, is failing the students. Having only twelve lock-step grade demarcations is not instructionally sound. The masses of students in public schools have IQs that range from 80 to 160+. The average IQ is 100. Obviously, all public school students cannot master the same grade level curriculum at the same rate. However, practically all of those students can master the same curriculum without retention – if we, as educators, adjust their rates of learning that curriculum, individually, and allow for students’ differing instructional needs by advancing them yearly to their own specific instructional levels of course work. This means, ultimately, that some students may take longer than twelve years to graduate from high school. This does not mean that they will have been retained or ‘socially promoted.’ The overall school design for instruction and for grade level curriculum in public schools must change and adapt to the realistic population it houses. Public school curriculum and delivery of that curriculum must adapt to the realistic variances among students who attend public schools – without blaming the students – I might add, for their differing needs as they move up the progressive curriculum gradient requirements toward high school graduation.

In addition, I would recommend that 8th grade teachers be trained to be very sensitive to, and aware of, the precise instructional levels that their students are functioning on, individually, when they recommend their students for high school courses for their 9th grade classes. No student should be recommended for a high school course which is over his or her head academically. Perhaps more high school courses should be offered which address lower level academic needs of some students so that students do not need to be retained in eighth grade or in high school. Perhaps some students would be better placed in three core curriculum course, and two remedial course, instead of the typical five core curriculum courses until they increase their academic skills. This will means that some students might meet the required criteria for high school graduation in 5 or 6 years instead of only 4 years. Perhaps, too, more applied learning courses in high school, through job internships, could be offered for credit for some students in the earlier grade levels in high school.

Whatever the case, students will not learn – and they will fail – if they are not correctly placed in every class they take, grades 1 – 12+. That responsibility for the correct placement of students lies with educators, not with the students.”
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On December 28, 2012, I posted the following comments on the “Get Schooled” blog of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. My comments describe the need for addressing the exact instructional level of every student throughout the student’s tenure in school, irrespective of his or her grade level. This educational format is commonly referred to as a Continuous Progress Instructional Model. See below:

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Mary Elizabeth: “I have found that few educators (teachers, administrators, national and state educational leaders) grasp fully the fact that students will INVARIABLY function on differing functioning levels – at each grade level – because their intelligence, differing capabilities, and experiential backgrounds will always vary. Until that fact is acknowledged and addressed adequately systematically, some students will continue to fall behind others, and thereby will continue to fail, even with excellent Common Core Standards for each grade level established. Students will invariably learn at differing rates, because of the reasons given above. Educators must wake up to this fact – especially those in the power positions to effect positive change for all students.

EXAMPLE to illustrate this fact concretely from my post ‘Assessing Teachers and Students,’ published on my personal blog, ‘Mary Elizabeth Sings,’ February 25, 2012: ————————————————–———

‘I recognize that the value-added-assessment formula measures not only the student’s progress for the current year, but it measures, also, the probability of the student’s progress based on how much that student had progressed for the past three to five years, on the average, for each year. Thus, if the student achieves less than that average amount of progress for his present year, his present teacher could be rated as a poor instructor. (Other factors, such as a principal’s evaluation through observation are, also, considered.)

However, here is the catch. I was taught, as a graduate student, that if a student is reading within two years of his grade level, that he will be able to function in the reading requirements for that grade level. This means that if a 7th grade student is reading on 5th grade level that he will be able to function in the material for the 7th grade, but if he is reading on 4th grade level or below, in 7th grade, then he will not be able to function on 7th grade material.

Now, in considering the variable of IQ score, Johnny has scored in the IQ range of 83 to 88 for several years. That means that he is probably below average in his innate potential. One could, then, reasonably expect Johnny to grow 7 months in a 12 month period. Let’s say Johnny is in 2nd grade and he is reading on grade level 1.5 which is sufficient for him to function in 2nd grade. Next, he enters 3rd grade and he is reading on 2.2 grade level, having grown 7 months in 2nd grade. Johnny should still be able to learn and grow in 3rd grade because he is not reading more than two years behind 3rd grade level. So, he grows another 7 months in 3rd grade, with good instruction, based on his potential.

Now, we have Johnny in 4th grade and he has advanced in his reading skills to 2.9 grade level, which is within the two year cut off point for being able to master the curriculum for 4th grade. Next year, Johnny is in 5th grade and, having advanced 7 months in a year, he is reading on 3.6 grade level, but he can still cope. The next year, in 6th grade, Johnny is only reading on 4.3 grade level which is barely sufficient for coping with 6th grade material. In 7th grade, Johnny is only reading on 5.0 grade level, and he just barely passes his classes, but he does pass to 8th grade. In 8th grade, he reading on 5.7 grade level. Each year, then, from 2nd grade to 8th grade, Johnny has made his maximum progress which was – based on his IQ potential – 7 months of growth for a year’s work.

Johnny has been promoted to 8th grade because he passed 7th grade curriculum, but he is only reading on 5.7 grade level in the 8th grade, or more than two years behind his grade level. Therefore, although his 8th grade teacher may be a good teacher, Johnny may not advance 7 months in the 8th grade, as before, because he will have been taught on his frustration level during his 8th grade year. Johnny’s teacher was not aware of his IQ scores, nor of his academic developmental history, which had shown how he finally reached an academic frustration point in his 8th grade school year. In fact, Johnny may even regress in his reading skills in 8th grade because he will have spent a year being taught on his frustration level. At the end of his 8th grade year, his reading level may only be 5.5 grade level. When he entered 8th grade, his reading level was 5.7 grade level. His teacher is surprised that she received a poor rating based on Johnny’s 2 months’ regression in his standardized test scores. After all, his previous years’ scores had shown that Johnny could be expected to advance at least 7 months in a year’s time. His teacher does not know why he regressed by 2 months since she had tried so hard to help him grow. Johnny does enter 9th grade, however, because he (barely) passed most of his classes even though he regressed in his standardized reading scores, but now he is only reading on grade level 5.5 in 9th grade, or 3 and 1/2 years behind grade level – a perfect candidate for drop-out status. If teachers had made wise and prudent use of Johnny’s IQ scores, as well as having spent time assessing his developmental history, they might have analyzed his unique needs more wisely, earlier, and they might have provided him with the remediation he needed, earlier, even though he was advancing ‘according to how he had advanced previously.’

If student data continues to be used to evaluate teachers, a factor of data so vital as a student’s IQ must also be weighed, along with his curriculum standardized pretest and posttest scores, if one is to assess – accurately – the effectiveness of a teacher’s instruction, as well as how to instruct, effectively, to each student’s needs.’ ——————————————————————————————-

Other factors besides IQ, as I have stated, are operative which will make necessary the continuous addressing of the variances in instructional levels of students within each grade level. The above example was only illustrative of IQ variances. Thus, I am linking another of my posts on my blog, entitled, ‘Mastery Learning,’ (which I have previously linked here) especially for the perusal of educational leaders who are in positions to create schools which will address effectively the continuous (and variable) progress of students in grades k -12. Until this continuously occurring variability in students is acknowledged and addressed, students will continue to fail – irrespective of our good, though misguided, intentions to improve education. See link below.”

http://maryelizabethsings.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/about-education-essay-1-mastery-learning/

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Paulo: “Mary Elizabeth ….Do have a look at this…”

http://www.education.com/reference/article/cultural-deficit-model ========================================================

Mary Elizabeth: “Paulo, thank you for sharing the link, above, with me which dismantles many stereotypical thoughts about poor and minority students’ (and their familes’) desire for quality education. I hope that others will take a few minutes to read your link, especially the last paragraph in the article. Here is a quote from the article:

‘Because this model frames the problem as one of students and families, the remedies informed by deficit perspectives created to ameliorate student underachievement and failure often fail meaningfully to address problems within schools or society at large that combine to depress the performance of certain groups of students.’ ”

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Mary Elizabeth: “Per my earlier post today, I have tried to demonstrate how different students will take differing rates to master the same curriculum concepts.

That being true, perhaps educators should rethink having all students graduate from high school within a set 12 year time period. Some students may be able to master the required curriculum content, for a high school diploma, within 11 years, whereas other students may take 13 years, or longer, to master the same required content for the diploma. The important factor is that all students do graduate, with mastery of the required curriculum having been achieved.

If a given student is identified as needing to take longer than 12 years to master curriculum concepts to graduate, then perhaps that student would be better served by taking 3 academic courses in a given quarter (as well as 2 on-the-job training courses, or 2 remedial courses) instead of taking the standard 5 academic courses per quarter, every quarter. To master all of the academic curriculum requirements, that student might need, then, to take 13 years to graduate from high school, with true mastery of all of the curriculum content having been achieved. Better to extend the time to master all of the curriculum, than to force some students to drop out of school because the required rate in which they must master concepts is too rapidly set for them. As a result, these particular students are being taught on their frustration, not instructional, levels.

It is time for educators (and the public) to stop blaming the students, and find a more feasible educational model for them to meet with success throughout their years in school. Look to a continuous progress model, with mastery of concepts tailored for each student throughout the student’s tenure in school.”

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Redweather:  “And if we are going ‘to stop blaming students,’ we should also stop blaming teachers.”

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Mary Elizabeth:  “Amen to that!

‘We’ should simply change the instructional design of our schools to accommodate a realistic, continuous progress, mastery of curriculum, model for every student in grades k – 12 (or more), in the ways that I have tried to explain, and then ‘we’ should educate teachers, administrators, parents, and students as to how that effective design would operate, in practice, for each student.”

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Truth in Moderation: “Mary Elizabeth, you might enjoy this encouraging story. Eboni defies the ‘culture deficit model’ and gets accepted to Columbia University:
http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/education/normandy-high-senior-overcomes-hardships-to-land-slot-in-ivy/article_d6b9f853-73ad-57af-9d71-6635a9a8b76b.html?mode=story

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Mary Elizabeth: I did thoroughly enjoy reading Eboni’s story, Truth in Moderation. Thank you very much for sharing Eboni’s inspiring story with me. Eboni is a young lady with many gifts who wants all of her talents to bloom, as well she should. I am very supportive of her efforts, and I am equally impressed with her qualities. Eboni was especially drawn to the maxim that ‘circumstances do not define your destiny.’ Hers is a beautiful attitude, and there is much truth in that maxim, especially when one has an attitude as positive as is Eboni’s.

I, also, want to share a section of her story in which Eboni describes how her young mother exposed her to reading and language development, when she was a baby. I encourage all parents, or guardians, to read to their children early in their lives. This practice, alone, could help your children learn to read well in school. You are exposing your child, early, to the cadences of language in its written form, as well as exposing your child to many storylines, varied experiences, and interesting characters. You are aiding in developing your child’s ability to sustain concentration, and you are enhancing your child’s early language development, and imagination, by reading to your child with enthusiam and interest. The next step will, naturally, be that your child will want to read his, or her, own books. Start with easy to read ‘picture books’ (with sequential plots) from public libraries, and then advance to picture books with some minimal word use under the pictures. Read the book first with your child, and later your child will be able to read those minimal words, by sight, for himself or herself. After that, begin to build your child’s knowledge of consonant names and then sounds (i.e.’b’ sounds like ‘buh’ and ‘d’ sounds like ‘duh’) so that your child can work through sounding out unknown words in the context of the easy-to-read book’s plot development.)  Note to interested readers: In my personal blog entitled, ‘Mary Elizabeh Sings,’ one of my posts has been developed – in outline form – to teach parents and teachers ‘Word Attack Skills’ (title of my post) in how to instruct their children and students in phonics and word attack skills from consonant and vowel sounds through syllabication and the meanings of prefixes, root words, and suffixes.

See below for the excerpt from Eboni’s story in which her mother reads to her as a baby:

‘But when Eboni was a baby, Flurry (Eboni’s mother) began reading to her. She read through many of their moves, though it stopped when the family was in homeless shelters. She used letter-shaped refrigerator magnets to work on spelling.’ ——————————————————————————————————

I want to share Cyndie’s story with you, Truth, as well as with other readers who may not have read Cyndie’s story, earlier. This is a true story of one of my previous teaching experiences, when an African-American junior in my high school Advanced Reading class approached me, late on one Friday afternoon, with her story. Cyndie’s story is not as dramatic, in impact, as Eboni’s story, but Cyndie ‘gave’ her story to me that Friday afternoon, after school, with the understanding that I would continue to share her story with other students who are behind their peers in their reading skills. I will share it again, today, in behalf of Cyndie, for all of those students – and for all of their teachers and their parents who want to find ways to help their children and their students – who are behind others in their grade level in their reading skills. The good news is that these students can ‘catch up’ to their grade level peers, and that they can eventually even optimize their own potential, as Cyndie did. Cyndie’s story will show the way.”

http://maryelizabethsings.wordpress.com/2012/02/11/cyndies-story/

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Mary Elizabeth: “For any who may perceive that my support of Eboni’s overcoming of her unfortunate ‘circumstances’ to be admitted to Columbia University is in contradiction to my endorsement of the ‘cultural deficit model,’ as shared by Paulo’s earlier link, I wish to state that there is no contradiction in my perception.

I have frequently avowed that improvement in the education, and in the class status, of the underclasses will take a combination of personal initiative and societal programs which are targeted to help the underclasses. Both approaches are needed for our nation to achieve the realization of the ‘more perfect union’ to which are forefathers aspired for America. In order to achieve this more perfect union, imo, citizens must come to see that some dichotomies which are seemingly in contraposition may, in fact, work in harmony when we perceive with the larger vision of inclusion, not only of ideas, but of all people.”

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