One High School’s Shift Away From Grade Levels

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Reposted from MindShift:

Sanborn High School in New Hampshire was a mediocre school with mediocre test scores. When the state passed a policy mandating that schools develop a competency-based system — advancing students based on mastery of specific skills and concepts instead of time spent in each grade — school leaders seized on the model as a way to turn the entire school around from the bottom up.

It hasn’t been an easy task and the journey isn’t complete, but in the past five years, Sanborn has moved away from many practices that have long defined traditional high schools, said Brain Stack, Sanborn’s principal. “In some ways we were building this model with the hope it would all work out,” Stack said. Sanborn is one of the few comprehensive public high schools in New Hampshire going after competency-based teaching and assessment aggressively. Most other schools in the state showing leadership in competency are charter schools whose systems don’t easily map to Sanborn’s existing infrastructure and staffing. “It’s not like we are a new school where we can say this is going to be our model and hire accordingly,” Stack said.

A team of five teachers share a group of students, who stay with them for the whole year — a little like a middle school model. Teachers share information about how students are progressing through competencies and have complete control over student schedules for three to four hours each day. They distribute students to different teachers depending on where they need to strengthen their skills. It’s a collaborative, creative approach and it allows teachers to share the responsibility for competencies like collaboration and critical thinking that are needed in every subject area.

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