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## Teaching Strategies That Have Been Proven Successful

With the increased dedication of school districts to raising academic standards and abolishing social promotion, tremendous pressure has been placed on teachers and students to raise standardized test scores. While this may seem admirable from afar, its practical and real-life implications are usually not so bright. In fact, the push for higher standards often leads to tracking, skill bundling, and grade retention, all of which have inherent problems. Tracking, bundling, and retention are widely practiced in the United States and many other countries, and are based on both theory and research. Tracking, most often practiced in secondary schools, groups students into courses or sequences of courses of different difficulty levels adapted to their performance levels. Ability grouping, most commonly practiced in elementary schools, assigns students within classrooms to homogeneous groups of similar abilities. Grade retention requires students who have not met performance standards to repeat one or more grades. All three practices are based on the belief that children with similar abilities or achievement levels can learn together more efficiently than heterogeneous students. Other theories and research suggest that these practices may be inefficient and unwise. Some argue, for example, that students who remain in grade level may experience a decline in self-concept that may deter their progress, making them less likely to catch up to grade-level standards. This is partly because grade retention alone does not address the causes of academic failure. Others respond that, on the contrary, these students would fall further behind and drop out whether they persist or not. “Socially promoting” poorly prepared students would devalue the high school diplomas of those who meet rigorous standards. Similarly, some argue that it is more efficient to teach subjects like math when students share similar abilities. For example, it would seem difficult for consumer mathematics and calculus to be learned efficiently in a group. Still, it can be argued that faster learning students can benefit from helping slower learning students. Schools can also provide more classroom time and intensified instructional services to at-risk students for recovery or to prevent them from falling behind in the first place.

retention

Although there is no magic cure for retention problems, alternatives should be examined before it is too late, that is, before a student is on the verge of being retained. By studying the experiences of successful students and making the findings available to practitioners, researchers can help teachers focus on using teaching strategies that have proven to be successful. The following recommendations may also be helpful.

• Encourage pre-school enrollment in order to reduce retention rates.

• Require full-time daycare.

• Provide remediation commensurate with the academic needs of the children, regardless of whether they are maintained.

• Develop a strong advising network that allows faculty to get to know students.

• Maximize peer relationships through cooperative learning and mentoring.

• Shift to interest-based learning, where high school students are exposed to career- or project-based education instead of the lecture and test practices that are used now.

• Extend the academic calendar either to schooling throughout the year or to longer school days.

• Focus on the retention of motivated and qualified teachers.

• Hold teachers to expectations of higher levels of curriculum and instruction.

The voices of researchers and practitioners are not the only ones that need to be heard. Parents also need to become more involved in helping their children avoid retention. Some ways to encourage parent involvement are:

• Develop “tip sheets” that have helpful tips on how parents can get more involved in their children’s education.

• Develop education and outreach programs for parents.

• Don’t wait until students are at risk of failure; start communication with parents from an early stage.

Grouping and tracking

Why does neither retention, grouping, nor tracking improve academic progress for most children? Unfortunately, in many schools, clustering and tracking have resulted in stagnant, generalized courses designed to meet minimum curriculum standards. Real progress requires examining the intent, purpose, and design of clustered classes and maintaining a high level of integrity. The following recommendations deserve further consideration.

• Consider multi-age classrooms as a way to enrich children’s learning and development.

• Prioritize collaborative efforts between schools, employers and higher education to support academic excellence.

• Make objectives conferences with the students. Integrate the students’ self-assessments in the decisions about their grouping.

• Provide more robust teacher and principal preparation courses that will address diversity in rates and learning styles.

• Keep grouping flexible.

• Grouping should include high expectations, rigorous curriculum, and equitable access to high-quality instruction.

• Promote cultural awareness that helps teachers meet the diverse needs of their students.

• Promote public awareness. Educate the community about the best ways to group students.

• Hold administrators, teachers, parents and students accountable. All must work together to achieve the optimal level of student success.

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