The 4,100-pupil Lindsay Unified School District at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range is shaking up the classroom by scrapping age-based grade levels and focusing on mastery of the material. Shocking, I know:
Called competency-based learning, it is based on the idea that students learn at their own pace and should earn credits and advance after they master the material — not just because they have spent a year in a certain class.
In Lindsay, which sits among lush citrus orchards, many students come from poor families who pick or sort fruit. About 95% of the pupils are Latino, and 100% qualify for free lunch.
Lindsay’s move is showing some success. The district has seen its pass rates on state exams rise since competency-based teaching began in 2009. In reading, 34% of students passed the exams last year, up from 25% in 2009. Pass rates for math rose to 32% from 28%, while those for science jumped to 41% from 27%.
The district still scores below California averages on all the exams, but is improving faster than the statewide average on most of them. Lindsay’s score in the state Academic Performance Index, based on tests, jumped to 691 last year from 644 in 2009. The 47-point gain compares with an average 35-point rise statewide.
Meanwhile, suspension rates dropped by 41% and high-school students claiming gang membership fell by half to about 4%, district officials said.
I suppose the real problem comes when the middle-class schools are allowed to unleash their kids, and the gap widens.