Moving to an achievement-based system of learning would force a complete change in how we organize the school day and school year, as well as how the classroom is operated.
In an achievement-based system, schools would be organized by achievement groups or levels, with class size based on the learning readiness of the students. The less prepared a student, the smaller the class size and more individualized instruction.
In an achievement-based system, it is assumed that all children can achieve at a high level. The system recognizes that some children have had more access to knowledge and learning than others and that others can learn certain subjects faster.
Furthermore, if we are able to identify and address unfinished learning from prior years, students can advance more quickly and successfully toward their goals.
In this system, a student would start the year placed in an appropriate level and would remain there until the standard of learning for that level was met.
ACTE Program Chair Don Nielsen observes that the “focus in our current system is on sorting and teaching, not learning. All students receive the same material, presented in the same manner, and students are graded on how well they absorb the lessons presented. The focus is also on time.”
We have the equation wrong. Currently, in education, time is the constant and achievement is the variable. This should be reversed. Achievement is the goal, and contact time should be adjusted to meet the educational objectives.
Therefore, we suggest that students who are behind in their learning would be put in smaller classes, with individualized instruction. Those at or above standard in their learning would be placed in advanced classes.
Also, students needing more help would attend school longer each year.
An individual child’s background is also part of the equation. Those who have been exposed to reading and have had access to technology receive a different educational program than the child who has less experience in these areas or who struggles with English.
The uniform, age-based U.S. public education system is a poor fit for the nation’s increasingly diverse culture. Public school systems must shift their focus from uniformity to responsiveness and individualization.
Nielsen concludes, “Treating all children the same, as we mostly do in our current education system, does not recognize how different we all are from one another. Our education system needs to cater to those differences.”