Grade Levels: Is It Time to Consider Alternatives?

gtchat 10022015 Grade Levels


The first question under consideration at this week’s gtchat concerned why we group children by age in schools. The current system of education was developed in response to economic circumstances of the Industrial Revolution. However, as early as 1912 Frederick Burk warned, “The class system does injury to the rapid and quick-thinking pupils, because these must shackle their stride to keep pace with the mythical average.”

Celi Trépanier, author at Crushing Tall Poppies, noted, “Every child development milestone since birth is based on age. It was probably a logical choice at the time it was made.” Jaime, founder of Online G3 told us, “Age groupings allow for ease of processing in the factory model of education.” Several participants made the important distinction between peers and age-mates. One does not necessarily equal the other; especially for gifted children. Katie McClarty, Director of the Center for College & Career Success at Pearson Research and Innovation Network summed it up, “It can be difficult to find true peers for GT learners because of the asynchrony.”

“Students are educated in batches, according to age, as if the most important thing they have in common is their date of manufacture.” ~ Sir Ken Robinson, TED Talk

Is grouping by age the best way to foster growth and learning? Growth and learning come with challenge and exploration of passions; neither of which are contingent on age. Andrea of said, “Students should be immersed in an environment that allows them to dig into their curiosity when they feel an interest for that subject.” Jo Freitag, Coordinator of Gifted Resources  and Sprite’s Site in Australia added, “No, keeping age peers together is not the best way to foster learning – much better cooperative learning happens with true peers.” In fact, it was pointed out that rarely do we categorize people by age in any other setting.

Although there was widespread agreement that age-grouping does not serve school children well, is it plausible to consider eliminating age-grouping in public schools? Many considered it not only plausible, but necessary. It would be a monumental task to say the least; logistically, economically, and realistically ~ a whole new mind-set.

Negative consequences of changing the current system were then addressed. Societal norms steeped in tradition would come into conflict with changing the current system; i.e., accommodating sports. Non-academic activities (such as proms) supported by modern-day schools would not want drastic changes. Things to consider would be how to initially place students (what assessments to use) and the fluidity of groupings, what to name the new groupings, implementation of a new system, and the financial impact to school districts (teacher training, logistics).

gtchat 10022015 Grade Levels Graphic

What benefits might accrue for gifted children by eliminating age-grouping in schools? Eliminating age-grouping could allow children to progress at their own rate. Too many gifted children sit in classes without opportunity for growth; become disillusioned with the system. Progress could be measured by ability and mastery. There most likely would be fewer social-emotional issues and underachievement reduced. Being with academic peers would feel equalizing for many; at all strength and ability levels. Editor and writer Jeremy Bond astutely observed, “They don’t have to be labeled “gifted” if they don’t want to be. Nobody’s on the same level.”

Finally we looked at what alternatives to age-grouping should be explored. Competency-based education is one alternative to age-grouping; the student moves on after a demonstrative assessment. Mentorships, job shadowing, experiential learning are all possible alternatives to age-grouping. A transcript of this chat may be found at Storify.

gtchat-logo-new bannner

Global #gtchat Powered by the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented  is a weekly chat on Twitter. Join us Fridays at 7E/6C/5M/4P in the U.S., Midnight in the UK and Saturdays 11 AM NZST/9 AM AEST to discuss current topics in the gifted community and meet experts in the field. Transcripts of our weekly chats can be found at Storify. Our Facebook Page provides information on the chat and news & information regarding the gifted community. Also, checkout our Pinterest Page and Playlist on YouTube.

Head Shot 2014-07-14  About the author: Lisa Conrad is the Moderator of Global #gtchat Powered        by TAGT and Social Media Manager of the Global #gtchat Community. She is a longtime  advocate for gifted children and also blogs at  Gifted Parenting Support. Lisa can be contacted at:


Why Dividing Us by Age in School Doesn’t Make Sense

TED Talk: Changing Education Paradigms

Silberman’s “Crisis in the Classroom, Remaking of American Education”: A Critical Analysis (pdf)

Elon Musk Running Exclusive Ad Astra School in California Mansion Just to Educate his Children 

Grouping Kids by Age Should Have Vanished with the Little Red Schoolhouse

Is Multi-Age Grouping Beneficial to Middle School Students? (1999)

Group Kids by Ability and Subject Not Age Says Gifted Education Professor

Younger Children in the Classroom Likely Over-diagnosed with ADHD

AUS: The Effectiveness of Multi-age Grouping (pdf)

Stereotype Threat

The Effects of Grouping Children According to Their Ability in Primary Schools

Tech Will Make Us Rethink Age-grouping in Schools

Multi-age Grouping (1987)

Grade Levels Could be a Thing of the Past in Schools Focused on Competency

Competency Education Series: Policy Brief One (pdf)

What are the Benefits of Mixed-Age Classrooms?

AUS: Stages … Not Ages (pdf)

NYC: Wired Olympus Students Race toward Diploma at their Own Pace

A Second Chance at Reinventing the High School Experience

Grouping from the NAGC

The Problem with “Formative Assessment Tools”

Sprite’s Site: Socialization 2

Position Paper on Grouping from the NAGC


Graphics courtesy of Lisa Conrad.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.  CC0 Public Domain


Posted on October 4, 2015, in Acceleration, Education, gifted, gifted education and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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