Pass or Fail: Mixing Ages in a Single Classroom to Accommodate Developmental Differences

In this multi-part series, I provide a dissection of the phenomenon of retention and social promotion. Also, I describe the many different methods that would improve student instruction in classrooms and eliminate the need for retention and social promotion if combined effectively.

While reading this series, periodically ask yourself this question: Why are educators, parents and the American public complicit in a practice that does demonstrable harm to children and the competitive future of the country?

When it comes to getting rid of our current pass-fail system, I have developed six strategies (click to see them all). One change that I think will make substantial improvements is a shift to multi-age classroom arrangements.

All of the strategies for ending retention and social promotion presuppose a substantial and systemic change to the American educational system. Indeed, the strategies discussed in this series are not exclusively or even primarily focused on retention and social promotion, which are seen merely as symptoms of a greater disease. The true focus is upon putting an end to the graded education model and the related problems of standardized assessments and a graded curriculum. These are the factors that undermine our educational system most insidiously, often leaving the most vulnerable and the most talented of our students without a place in the educational system.

Multi-age classrooms can promote developmentally appropriate, innovative, and engaging educational opportunities. The multi-age classroom has tremendous potential as an educational approach if supported by skilled, qualified, and dedicated professionals in various capacities. However, it bears repeating that many different elements must be successfully integrated if a multi-age classroom is to attain its full potential.

Human development entails an interrelated sequence of changes in socialization, behavior, communication, and physical development. Students need the opportunity to work on these other areas of development as much as they need the opportunity to develop intellectually and academically. Students need to be able to interact appropriately with their peers and with adults. Behavioral considerations are related to both emotional and social development. In light of the evidence that multi-age classrooms provide benefits in these specific areas, graduates from multi-age programs can be expected show social and emotional maturity as well as academic achievement. Behavioral problems can be more effectively addressed in a multi-age classroom because of the regular exposure of younger students to their more mature peers.

Rather than basing the minimum acceptable grade on a child’s age, mixed age classrooms would take developmental differences into account. Mixed age classrooms would group children in developmentally equivalent groups spanning two or more years to optimize the learning potential of each child.

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