This article provides an overview of the continuous progress approach including attributes, school practices, issues, concerns, and research. It emphasizes the identified attributes such as developmentally appropriate practices, multiage and mixed-ability grouping, professional teamwork, authentic assessment, qualitative reporting, and parental involvement found in a variety of educational settings. The continuous progress model is embedded as part of good teaching practices that encourage children to progress to the best of their potential allowing for differences at each current learning level. Continuous progress focuses on the redesigning of school programs to nurture the social, emotional, intellectual and physical developmental needs of all children using nongraded and multigraded classes or multiage groups, continuous progress, continuity, parental involvement, and cooperative learning to assist individual progress of students by eliminating graded classifications and expectations.
Keywords Alternative Assessment; Benchmark; Cooperative Learning; Continuity; Continuous Progress Approach; Heterogeneous; Mixed Age Grouping; Multiage Grouping; Multi-level Grouping; Nongraded; Standards
The daunting challenge in education today is closing the achievement gap. A school's restructuring process struggles with students who come to school with language, culture, ethnic, and learning differences. The ultimate goal of any school-wide program is to improve students' academic performance. The continuous progress approach is a reform initiative that demonstrates learning tasks designed for students' developmental stages to include the cognitive, emotional, social and physical elements that do not conform to grade level work. The continuous progress approach creates an alternative program with multiage or mixed grouping, continuity, families, cooperative learning, and process-oriented instruction. Children's individual growth on an intellectual, emotional, social and physical level addresses a child-centered approach on skill and content curricula. Schools' goals, objectives, and actions support children learning and the future needs of students. The continuous progress approach can be defined as grouping children of multi-age and ability levels together with maximizing teaching practices. The continuity of the approach allows children to stay with their age-related peers no matter whether or not they have met or exceeded pre-specified achievement expectations. Heins (2000) emphasized individualized curriculum so that teaching and learning objectives are responsive to each child's prior experiences and rates of progress, regardless of age.
Continuous progress is designed using a multi-age and multi-level framework organized around students' learning rather than specific grades, grade levels, and curriculum scope and sequence. The continuous framework accommodates individual progress rates, eliminating grade classifications and expectations. Students of different chronological ages are assigned to the same classroom. These classrooms will have students of an age range within two or more years and ability levels to include students who have been retained. The concept is that all students do not develop at the same rate. Students are no longer retained and teachers have the flexibility to make instructional modifications. Nye (1993) found that applying the continuous progress approach utilizing grouping children of various age and ability levels maximizes teaching and learning practices. Teachers use activities to include child interaction, experiential learning, and cooperative learning while children experience a continuous progression of cognitive and social skills at each individual rate. This prevents premature failure of meeting established benchmarks.
The continuous progress approach developed during the early 1900's, as a result of the one room schoolhouse concept. This evolved to open education, ungraded classrooms, multiage grouping, the whole language approach, and continuous progress approach. The use of these various concepts justified grounds that are effective means of raising academic achievement. During the past century, 20 or more children according to their ages have been grouped in one class with one teacher who teaches the same curriculum to all students. Many school districts continue to refine and develop the multi-age grouping. Goodlad and Anderson (1987) found that placing students in classrooms according to their chronological age within a given time to cover curricular expectations was detrimental to their academic, social, and psychological growth. Katz (1996) found that continuous progress programs allowed for the focus on individualized instruction that promoted teaching and learning objectives regardless of age, which was responsive to students’ previous learning experiences and progress rates. Children progress to their individual learning rates and development without being restricted to meet specific expectations. As a result, students grow and progress at their own pace.
A greater focus has been placed on early intervention efforts to restructure the educational system. Teachers commonly practice dividing students into small groups for short periods of time during the school day according to students' ability levels. Skills learned in various subject areas are organized in a hierarchical series covering all grades covered in the program. The curriculum recognizes that children learn better when they are placed in groups according to their developmental levels and materials that appropriately meet their individual needs. Students are individually challenged to continue their learning to the next level within the classroom. These students are not restricted specifically to grade level materials. Copeland (1998) found that a child's learning is affected when he or she is retained or forced to follow grade level constraints.
The continuous progress approach curriculum framework involves critical elements to include heterogeneous grouping, individual progress rates, small group instruction, and team teaching. This educational reform initiative included an organizational framework, grouping students across age and ability, team/cooperative teaching, core curriculum and cooperative learning. Students have an opportunity to practice knowledge and skills in a variety of capacities to include direct instruction and cooperative groups. Students work naturally at their own levels without being labeled or pulled out for remediation, or enrichment. Katz (1992) stated when children progress at their individual learning rates developing without being compelled to meet age-related academic expectations, the result is an alternative that is developmentally appropriate. In turn, teachers become more aware of the normal variability of childhood development stages that can occur within a single age group. This approach is slowly becoming an alternative to traditional school practices.
Continuous progress is grounded in research that supports child development and learning. Nye (1993) found that children's cognitive, social, and emotional abilities do not develop at the same age or at the same rate. Therefore, a student's progress does not conform to another child's developmental growth. The child's growth is measured by the individual child's developmental benchmarks. It provides the opportunities of a spiraled curriculum in which students benefit through individual, critical reactions to thematic units. The continuous progress approach leads to outcomes that improve children's attitudes toward school, fewer discipline problems, increased attendance, improved peer relations, and improved teachers' attitudes toward work. The goal of continuous progress approach is to eliminate competition by requiring high expectations of all children. The realization that children develop at various levels, using various patterns, and at different rates of progress, is not considered in the match to rigid grade level expectations and standards.
Hunter (1992) found that multiage, nongraded grouping, continuous progress, interdisciplinary curriculum and alternative assessment improve instruction in nongraded classrooms. Emphasis was placed on vertical team teaching, early intervention, and interdisciplinary curriculum connecting to life. A continuous progress approach affects students' attitudes toward school, readiness scores and mastery of subject matter. Continuous progress enhances multi-age classrooms using a child's learning needs, background, and experience to improve academic achievement.
This approach requires educators to restructure classrooms into multiple and flexible groups. Teachers take an active role in their personal learning and the development of the instructional model for continuous learning and development. Teachers deliver instruction in a variety of ways, including mix-age programs that allow for flexible learning arrangements and developmentally appropriate teaching processes for all students. This approach creates an active learning environment that encourages individual development and fosters the growth of staff and students providing opportunities for teamwork, leadership and creativity.
One critical element of the continuous progress approach is how students are placed in groups. Students are placed heterogeneously based on their developmental levels, ages, and abilities with the flexibility to change membership. These groups are not placed in grades or specific grade levels. Students make progress individually with small group experimental instruction, continuous progress, and cooperative learning strategies, whole language instruction and social development.
The continuous progress approach integrates the curriculum in a cyclical format. A relationship is developed between teachers, students and parents over a span of years rather than months. Cooperative learning strategies implemented within a continuous progress classroom provide a collaborative teaching and learning concept rather than a competitive learning environment.
According to Wassermann (2007), school wide continuous progress begins when schools demonstrate their successes and identify areas of improvement. The continuous progress approach includes strong leadership from administrators to protect the school...
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