Learning at Your Own Pace

I’m spending chunks of my summer working with a group of 18 students who did not graduate as scheduled with their classmates last June.  Some of these students I just want to punch as they walk into my classroom, because they are only in this situation because of the bad decisions they have made throughout their four years in high school.  Others though, should be able to walk in without any shame, because for various legitimate reasons, they just need some more time than their classmates to get the work done or acquire the skills they need to pass our state exams.  I have students in my classroom right now who are homeless, who have been working 30-40 hours a week for the past few years to support their families, who have learning and emotional disabilities that have gone undiagnosed and untreated, and who have still not reached a proficient level of English after immigrating to this country.  And I have some students who just take longer to learn things than others.  These students, when they do graduate in August, or next year, will have accomplished much more than most of their classmates for whom school came relatively easily.  They deserve the highest praise and recognition, rather than the demeaning label of “Super Seniors.”

I am a huge fan of having high standards that all students should meet, but we also need to allow for students to meet these high standards at different paces.  It was thrilling this morning to read about Kansas City’s decision to group all students by skill instead of by age.  Grouping students by age is easy for us as educators, but I just don’t see how it benefits students.  The traditional solution to this problem has been to track students within age groups based on ability (or perceived ability), which I’m against for a lot of reasons, but for the sake of this post, I’ll just mention that having different standards and expectations for students in “Honors” or “AP” courses that differ from the rest just reinforces the ability and motivation discrepancies that already exist.  However, by keeping the same high standards for all students, and removing the pressure to finish in a certain time, we could create a system where the students I’m with right now don’t feel as if their entire life to this point as been a failure because they did not receive their high school diploma on an arbitrarily assigned day.  I look forward to seeing how things go in Kansas City, and wish them the best success.