I attended a School Committee meeting recently and learned of a few changes.
First, the elementary school is going to start using standards-based grading. This will not be ABCDF or 100-pt grading. Instead, a 1-4 scale will be used, with the numbers referring to whether the child has met the standards. The goal would be to have all students with 3 or 4 by the end of the year, and parents should not be surprised if their kids have 1 or 2 early in the year. It means we will have to rethink how we respond to grades.
The good news is that the standards will be pretty clearly spelled out, so we will know what to work on with our kids at home. "Can count to 100"--well, I can help with that. "Can add fractions." Yep, I can help with that, too.
Second, the middle school is eliminating tracking. I'm ambivalent about this. On one hand, I was tracked myself and I seem to have benefited. That's the system of education I knew, I was familiar with. On the other hand, Stamford public schools have eliminated tracking in middle schools and seen benefits for the lower-performing students, and they've resisted un-tracking the longest. The article says:
These mixed-ability classes have reported fewer behavior problems and better grades for struggling students, but have also drawn complaints of boredom from some high-performing students who say they are not learning as much.
I'd be concerned except that I remember being bored even in my classes, which were "advanced."
Back in the 90s I used to post about these kinds of issues on misc.education, taking on many conservative critics of public education, teacher unions, and "outcomes-based education." Back then the bogeyman was "whole language" reading curricula, which was denounced in favor of phonics. Parents were also Deeply Concerned that eliminating tracking would make it harder for their gifted children to learn.
And now I have my own kids. One thrives in school and does very well. The other does very well, and damned if I can tell if he's thriving. His grades are good. He's got "quirks," mainly in the social skills area, though I feel like he's a little bit quirky in terms of attention, sensory processing, and receptive communication skills as well. I wish they were teaching him more social skills and less academics, to be honest, because I can co-teach academics, but I apparently lack social skills and/or the ability to teach them.
My kids may be gifted. But day after day, what I keep coming back to is not worrying about whether they should be learning algebra tomorrow, but about their social skills, their emotional intelligence. My daughter is progressing pretty well, though we're about to start one of the most difficult phases for a girl, the 5th to 9th grade years. My son can recite the capitals of little-known countries and can recognize and draw the flag of Nepal. But he can't seem to make a friend at recess (I guess the other boys and girls have little interest in knowing where Burundi is).