California-based education technology organization EdSurge featured a piece on New Hampshire’s pilot “No Grades, No Grades” (NG2) program in 7 of the state’s elementary schools.
With NG2, students work in groups with peers of similar skill levels, not necessarily by age. It allows the teacher to tailor a learning plan to their specific needs:
Amy Allen (Principal of Parker Varney Elementary School in Manchester) says that about 80 percent of the school is participating in the pilot. There are two separate K-2 groupings, one second/third grade group, and a fourth/fifth group. (The other 20 percent of the school, including a standalone kindergarten and third-grade class, are sticking to the status quo.)
Using the second/third grade pod as an example, Allen explains how two teachers start their morning together with a group of nearly 58 students who work on their own tablet devices. Each student is assigned an individualized learning schedule that involves group work or one-on-one interventions with a teacher. Groups are based on skill level, so a student might be working with older peers in math but younger students in English and language arts. They move around to different groups or classrooms throughout the day and follow lessons specifically tailored to their skills and competencies, rather than their ages.
“We don’t talk about that [grades] anymore,” says Allen…For Allen, moving away from just using the word “grades” has been an important piece of keeping students motivated in the program. So if a first-grade student is attending a kindergarten intervention group, he is not told he is going to a kindergarten class. Instead, he might be going to see “team cooperation.”
Without grade levels, says Allen, teachers have been able to better target instruction for individual students. “Students are moving throughout the day based on the standard, versus everyone in that first-grade classroom working on the same thing at the same time.”
NG2 is focused on K-8, but all grades in New Hampshire are moving towards a competency model. While that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll no longer see a traditional report card, it does mean that schools are focused on personalizing education for each student in ways that best fit their communities.
The Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE) pilot project is another way that eight districts are changing the way their schools assess student knowledge. The PACE program trades the end-of-the-year standardized tests for competency-based project assessments, which are locally developed by New Hampshire teachers. With these assessments, there is no “teaching to the test”. Students get to live the lesson by taking what they have learned in class and applying it to a real world situation. It’s all part of the individualized, competency model, according to Ellen Hume-Howard, Sanborn Regional School District’s curriculum director:
Ellen Hume-Howard, director of curriculum for Sanborn District, explains how their new assessment model is more project-based and requires students to go “beyond just the facts.” For example, when fourth-grade students learn about their state government, they used to be tested on who the governor is and how parts of the legislature works. “But in PACE,” she says, “our students are required in the performance assessment to go create a bill, create a proposal on the bill, and present it live to a mock senate floor.”
While the school has done away with A, B, C grading, Hume-Howard clarifies that feedback is still happening—only now students are receiving number scores on individual standards and competencies instead of letter grades on overall subjects. The district uses a competency-based scale where grades are broken down into standards for each subject. She adds that calling them “grades” has been blacklisted in her district, too. “We’re not calling it a grade, but it’s definitely learning feedback.”