RISC, Making a Difference in Colorado Schools

RISC’s work with Colorado’s Adams 50 School District is the subject of an in-depth article in the American School Board Journal’s (ASBJ) American School. In “Changing the Grade,” ASBJ managing editor Kathleen Vail says:

It may not look like it at first glance, but a revolution is occurring in Adams County School District 50, which serves 10,000 students just north of Denver. If it succeeds, the district will overturn a public school icon: the grade level.

[A] sense of urgency, prompted by persistently low achievement and a statewide open enrollment policy that was siphoning away middle-class families, led Adams 50 to make wholesale changes in the way students are taught. Starting this year, elementary and middle school students are being grouped by level, not age, and the reform moves to the high school next year. . . .

Based on the recognition “that kids learn at different rates,” . . . the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition (RISC) model . . . replaces grade levels with skill levels. Or, as [RISC Lead Education Consultant Rich] DeLorenzo describes it: “We give kids the road map; they figure out how they learn best.”

Metz Elementary, the pilot school, put the reform in place in 2008-09. Of the school’s 430 students, 80 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch and 60 percent are English language learners. Students are placed in their level groups in literacy and math and spend one-third of the day in heterogeneous classrooms.

Early signs are encouraging, Stoll says. Metz’s fourth- and fifth-grade reading and math scores rose in the first year, and discipline problems went down by 40 percent “because kids were at their own level, not bored or frustrated,” she says.