Schools improve test results by throwing out their grades

18th July 2003 at 01:00
UNITED STATES

KENTUCKY primaries have thrown many teaching conventions out of the window in an attempt to raise test scores under the state's radical primary programme.

Gone are teachers barking instructions from the front of a class. Instead they shuttle between clusters of pupils, deploying an array of pedagogical techniques from tactile learning aids to physical demonstrations.

Half the state's 780 primaries have also ditched age-based classes.

Instead, pupils are grouped together in classes based on academic progress, straddling age differences of up to three years.

And there are no grades. Students produce portfolios instead.

"We are looking at progressing children without comparing (them)," said Annette Bridges, the scheme's co-ordinator, who suggests that comparison with peers discourages many pupils.

The 12-year-old programme is one of many attempts to improve teaching highlighted in the National Foundation for Educational Research report on International trends in primary education.

The programme is getting results. Eight-year-old students' average performance on reading and maths tests rose from 49 per cent in 1997 to 59 per cent and 60 per cent respectively last year.

It has not been plain sailing though. Some schools have reverted to conventional age-group classes. It is asking a lot of teachers to lavish tailored instruction on the 24 pupils in an average class, concedes Ms Bridges.

Teachers are given an intensive three-day training course. They can also ask for help from more than 30 teacher mentors known as designated master practitioners.

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