What Does it Mean to be in Fifth Grade?

An alternative approach to the educational grouping of students

Upon meeting a school-aged youth, we’ve all asked that question, ”What grade are you in?”,  as if their grade level identifies that child in a meaningful way.  It places children in a silo, which is a grouping that is essentially meaningless for no other reason than to give their classroom a title .  This is especially true if one holds to the academically sound notion that education should be differentiated… accommodating the varying needs of different students. I would challenge anyone to show me a single classroom of any given grade level where each and every student is on the same academic level in multiple subject areas.  It just doesn’t happen.

So why do we group children by grade levels, if in reality, they are all essentially at different stages in their academic progress?  The answer for public schools is simple…With thousands (and sometimes tens of thousands) of students in a single system, it just makes practical sense.  And, for the most part, public schools do as best they can in utilizing this model.  Teachers differentiate within their classrooms, they have access to a variety of resources outside of the classroom (specialists, etc), and they take advantage of this grouping system to manage a broad curriculum disbursed across their individual school divisions.  But is this the only way?

In a report comprised of input from a variety of academic resources (see link below) the argument is made that the use of multiage classrooms, where students are grouped in a manner reminiscent of the traditional one-room schoolhouses, have many advantages. “In a multiage classroom, children learn in a continuum; they move from easier to more difficult material and from simple to more complex strategies at their own pace, making continuous progress rather than being promoted once a year to move forward in the curriculum.” (Guastad, 1992; Katz, 1992) (Emphasis added).  The challenges in the classroom to address the varying developmental abilities of students makes it very difficult in today’s rigid grade-level system where students are identified as being in a grade level, rather than seen as achieving a particular academic goal.

Perhaps it’s time that we see students as individuals… working on a continuum, focusing on continuous progress, recognizing the academic goals they have achieved… rather than celebrating the fact that they are now in the “fifth grade.”

Just a thought…


For a copy of the full report referenced above, see:


IndED Academies, a private micro-school network located in Leesburg, VA (opening in the Fall of 2015) will offer a multiage classroom setting for ages 9-12 and 12-15.

Connect with us: