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Roughly 150 schools in the country have gotten rid of separate grade levels, letting kids of different ages study the same material. (Pixelhouse / Corbis)

Grade Schools Without Grades?

Some schools in the U.S. have stopped placing students in different grade levels

By Zach Jones | null null , null

What grade are you in?

That may be one of the first questions you ask a kid you’re meeting for the first time, and it is often the first question adults ask you. But for some kids, the answer is “None.”

Today, about 150 schools in the U.S. do not place students in separate grade levels.

At Hodgkins Elementary School in Denver, Colorado, students are grouped not by age but by what they know. Students are separated in each class by their different levels of knowledge.

For example, an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old can both be in the same Level 7 reading class, but for math, one student can be in a Level 6 class and the other can be in Level 8. This new system is called standards-based learning.

Why do away with grades? Some education experts say this enables students to learn at their own pace. Students who need more attention in one subject get the help they need, along with other kids at their level, while students who are more advanced in that subject aren’t slowed down.

“Every student in every class is learning at exactly the spot that they're supposed to,” Hodgkins principal Sarah Gould told reporters. “For the first time, every child is getting exactly what they need, when they need it, and how they need it."

The system is supposed to help boost each student’s confidence. In a typical school, students can skip a grade if they’re advanced or stay in the same grade if they fall behind. Both can be difficult for kids because of differences in age. Under this system, Gould says, Hodgkins students have become more motivated and less involved in fights and teasing.

But some parents and education professionals want to keep traditional grades because having them helps schools compare their results with those of other schools. Only half of the 300 schools around the country that have tried the new program have stuck with it for more than one or two years. Educators say it can take up to five years for standards-based learning to show results, so it may be quite a while before there is significant evidence to show whether the approach is successful.

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