The majority of American students go through their K-12 years grouped by age. If my memory serves me correctly, my classmates and I turned six in kindergarten, thirteen in seventh grade, sixteen as sophomores, and so on. There were always the lucky ones who got their driver’s licenses as freshmen and the unlucky ones who still couldn’t go to a PG-13 movie in eighth grade, but for the most part, everyone in your class hit the big age milestones at the same time.
But with all the new technologies such as Khan Academy that allow teachers to flip their classrooms so that students can work at their own pace, is the age of age-grouping going to become a thing of the past? In a recent GigaOM article, McGraw-Hill executive Jeff Livingston asserted that it will.
Livingston is the Senior Vice President of College and Career Readiness at McGraw Hill, and he believes that students should not be grouped by age but by competency. In the next five to six years, he he thinks that educators will need to reassess the idea of grouping students by age in K-12 education, particularly at the high school level.
“What does it mean to be a ninth grader or tenth grader beyond being a certain age?” said Livingston. “It doesn’t make sense that all the 15-year-olds are in this grade and all the 16-year-olds are in that grade. It should be where your interests, your skills, and your mastery of certain concepts takes you.”
Livingston isn’t the only one to cite the advantages of competency-based learning. There are many advocates of the idea that students should be grouped by their skill levels rather than their age. By allowing students to progress at their own pace, students who have mastered concepts can advance quickly, while students who have trouble with certain concepts can review and practice until they feel comfortable, rather than progressing at fixed intervals for advancement’s sake. In this way, the students who tend to master concepts quickly don’t become bored waiting for the rest of the class to catch up, and students who need a bit more time to learn new concepts don’t become discouraged while the rest of the class moves forward.
Livingston went on to discuss how models of learning based on competency rather than grades will make us rethink traditional methods of certification and credentialing, particularly following the success of online education platforms such as Udacity and Coursera. He believes the high school diploma will evolve to be “organized around what you can do, more than what you know.”
Check out more of Livingston’s ideas in the GigaOM article.
What do you think of competency learning vs. age-grouping in school? There’s room for debate in the comments below!