Staggered Enrollment

Yesterday, I complained about frustration due to technological literacy.  That’s something I can’t really do much about: it’s a flaw that will be exploited by the severe skewing of computer use and the technology gap created by the income gap.  Whatevs.  We should alter our assessment system from a computer based, standardized testing, to a more holistic, personal assessment system built around portfolio work and integrated, collaborative instruction.  That’s a complex bit of thinkery, right there, and more than I want to get into here – I’m preaching to the choir, surely.

But, I have a new idea I want to bring up.  It’s based on a problem.  The problem is student maturity and age.  Now, I am making a large assumption with this idea.  Maturity is not directly linked to age – but for the vast majority of students you can guess fairly well their psychomotor and emotional maturity based on their specific age.  My main argument here – and I am not linking any research, but I know there IS research on this – is that even by early elementary, student ages should be measured in months, not years.

Anecdotally, I can back this up.  There are students in my class more than a year older than others, and this shows.  This is not fair.  Two of my retentions are very young and could easily have waited one more year until Kindergarten – an act which may have kept them on track instead of being held back (Being held back IS NOT A BAD THING).  Another is old, gigantic, but still struggling with the material.  I have several students who aren’t at grade level, but aren’t low enough for a full year of retention.

That’s several problems, and they are all related:  Age/maturity gap, need for retention but not full year retention, and pushy parents.  What’s the solution?  Staggered enrollment.

(I am not so vain as to think I am the only one who has thought of this – but I haven’t found any information on this specifically)

Currently, staggered enrollment is used to describe students starting their school year a different day of the week.  It’s not what I mean.  What I mean is to describe a marking period/semester program within the early elementary school (and into later years) wherein classes are created same-age students based on six month periods instead of year-long periods.  What this means is that an elementary school with two first grades would have one group of first graders begin school in September.  Another would start in January/February (the second semester).  The two classes would be six months apart in curriculum – the system being similar to college in that you can begin any semester.

Which is silly.  There are plenty of differences between college students, but not many are developmentally crucial to the subjects being taught.  In Kindergarten and first grade, you can see the difference between a five year old and a five and half year old easily.  We aren’t helping students by cramming them all into one class with a stretch of a year between some.

Start the July-December birthdays in September.  Start the January-June birthdays in February.  With a staggered grade system, you open up several possibilities:

1)  Students will be more likely to have similar psychomotor skills, ideally limiting this as a basis for differentiation (not that you wouldn’t still use it).

2)  Emotional and physical maturity would be better matched as well, limiting older kids preying on the younger, plausibly lowering instances of bullying.

3)  A better retention system.  There are students who struggle with the first few months of a grade.  Yet, they can’t be moved backward at that point.  What if a student struggling in their first half of first grade was allowed to immediately repeat that half?  What if a student finishes first grade, is not ready for second, but is too far along to really need the full first year?  Creating a divided year with staggered classes addresses both these issues.  It certainly limits the age-maturity link I am arguing, but ideally, being more ready for your grade could reduce the need for retention anyway.  And parents would be far more willing, I believe, to retain for a half year instead of the whole grade.

Now, this is all based on anecdotal evidence, limited data, and supposition – but I think it is well worth considering.  Not that I know who to talk to.

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