Cohorts!

In New York State all children who are born from Jan. 1- August 31 must enter kindergarten at the age of 5. This time range determines the class cohort that keeps all students of one age together for 13 years of school. They are called the class of “——.” This year will be the June class of 2020 high school grads who entered kindergarten in September, 2006. The range used to be all students born from Jan.1 – December 31 would enter school in September of the year they turned 5.

I was born December 9, 1948. When I entered kindergarten, I was 4 ½ years old. However, some group of educators in the past few decades decided that 4 ½ year-olds did not work well with 5 year-olds. Not uniform enough – all had students had to be the magic age of 5. It never phased me as being the third youngest in the class, and how I learned. No one at my 50th class reunion felt that being a few months younger mattered in our education.

In the 21st century students come into school much better prepared to learn to read than when I went to school. The majority of students attended pre-school. Students now read and write in kindergarten; whereas, I had to wait until first grade to learn how to read. Also, what used to be ½ day to kindergarten is now full day, called “all-day” kindergarten.

In the days of the one room school house, students entered grade 1 and were mixed with students through grade 8, giving the teacher in the one-room school format the opportunity to group students by what they needed to learn versus their age. This made sense because not all students learn at the same rate. One size does not fit all! Like today’s thinking, one size should fit all. Really?

The one-one room school multi-level approach was obstructed by the industrial model that now grouped students by age rather than by ability. Same idea – all students enter at a given age, but are not kept together in one class. Instead they are given multiple opportunities to learn at their own level. Now, all students in each class are the same age. And the teachers are required to “differentiate instruction,” a nearly impossible task in the secondary format where teachers could see150 students a day in five 45-minute periods.

The old idea of multilevel grouping based on assessment of needs and abilities would be welcomed in a 21st century school (eliminating the learning gaps created by the cohort model). Now, students who have not mastered the grade level skills and concepts are just moved to the next grade, where it becomes more and more difficult for the teachers to teach missed concepts and skills of grade 3, for example, while expected to teach grade 4 concepts and skills.

To make it worse, student gaps are at times remediated, while the other students learn new tasks. But the gap widens and the students never catch up. For example, in mastering the names of basic geometric shapes, students are passed through school who don’t know their shapes when they get to high school geometry They cannot succeed because they never learned their shapes.

In a 21st century elementary classroom, students would be offered a K-2, 3-5, 3-8, 9-12 level education, allowing them to master the contents and skills prior to leaving a level. A student may excel in reading at the K-2 level but needs work on math. Once the mastery level is achieved for reading the students may test out of the K-2 level requirements and then have time to master K-2 math. Testing out of the mastery level allows students to move on to more rigorous learning tasks, spending time needed to reach mastery at all levels. Teachers can use technology efficiently to assess students and provide blended learning (online-with regular courses).

Middle school, in particular, will benefit. A middle school may have 3 feeder elementary schools, with students coming in at all levels. The lone middle school grade 6 teacher is faced with 150 students with no data attached, coming into a new school schedule of nine 45-minute periods that separate out the content areas. Transition to middle school often interferes with student learning.

Your thoughts on redefining cohorts?

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