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Grade Level – Stairsteps to Climb or Social Standing?

Wendy here, first. This article Joyce wrote a good number of years ago, so perfectly explains the philosophy behind Ability Based Learning, that I felt I had to run it again! Our products do just what she says below... we teach to the child's ability, not their age or grade level. So read on, and I hope you're blessed by Joyce's timeless wisdom.

And now... Joyce.....

What is a grade level? I can’t tell you how often people introduce themselves to me by telling me the grade levels of the children they homeschool. I chuckle inside – or groan –and wonder what they mean.

I’ve been in the field of education all my adult life and I still can’t figure out what a grade level is, let alone what it means. In fact, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that it really doesn’t mean much.

If you say to me your child is in the third grade, does it mean this is his third year in school? Does it mean he is doing third grade work in all subjects? Does it mean he has

mastered certain skills or completed studies of certain topics? The answer to all three of those questions is, “NO!”

A look at the history of grade levels is interesting. There are two ways grade levels have been used in our society. Have you ever seen any mention of grade levels in the Bible? I can’t find even a hint of their existence. In fact, I don’t find them at all until the late 1700’s. At that time, children were beginning to be gathered together in large groups for education. There were three large divisions somewhat akin to the primary, intermediate and collegiate levels. The groups were for the ease of the teacher, who then had to

address fewer levels of skills within the class.

In the 1800’s, grade levels were more related to skills achieved. Whenever a person entered school – whether it was when he started school at the age of seven or when

he came out of the fields or forests to begin his education, he entered the first reader. The first reader was called “The Primer,” which means first. The Primer started by teaching the alphabet sounds and went on through basic reading skills. The learner went on

to the next book when he had mastered the skills represented by the first book. Whether that took one year or seven years was immaterial. He wasn’t ready for the second book until he had mastered the skills in the first book. Grade level was a series of stair steps that a child climbed through.

Across the country today, children enter first grade when they will turn six years old before a certain date. Some already read fluently. Some don’t know the letter names or sounds. The grade placement has nothing to do with achievement; it is more of a social standing. At the end of the year most are passed on to the next grade – even if they have achieved the skills of a child two years beyond that. Twelve to fourteen years later the child ‘graduates,’ whether or not he has learned anything. He has put in his time and gets his reward. The only other place in society where the reward comes for putting in time is our penal system – another dismal failure!

There are books “out there” to help homeschoolers know what “every child” should know at each grade level. They are used to direct the education of young children in order to have them “pass the test.” At one time it was considered unethical to teach to the achievement test. Now it is considered the ‘proper’ way to teach.

Most people see grade levels as something through which to force a child in order to “prepare him.” I still haven’t even figured out what we’re preparing them for – life? Another year of school? Marriage? Career? I’m not sure we’re prepared for anything upon finishing the typical school career.

I think it is time for a change. We need to bring logic back into education. We need to stop following the crowd into the abyss. We need to be willing to step out of the fold and stand on our own two feet.

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