I struggle with the concept of grade level. I have tried and tried to understand this, but every definition ends with the circular argument of what is appropriate to the grade. That is what I don't get, how can we say that this level of work is appropriate for this age of child? What does a level 3 (or a B, or a three smiley face, or whatever quantitative assessment measure you are using) grade five student look like?
If it is based on the curricular benchmarks and standards, then how does that work? Here is an example of a benchmark from a major curriculum provider;
Standard 1: Uses a variety of strategies in the problem-solving process
Level 3 - 1) Understands how to break a complex problem into simpler parts or use a similar problem type to solve a problem
Looking at this, I understand that the overarching standard is not something that is easily quantified. It is like the big idea. We are not assessing the big idea, but rather providing an opportunity for it to be explored. I get that. It is all the sub standards that confuse me. For example, how do I assign a number to the process of breaking down problems into simpler parts (which seems a bit reductionist, shouldn't we be trying to help students see the whole problem and its context? That is another blog post!)? Is there a way to measure that? Is it about consistency? And then it gets further complicated (and I mean that in the mechanical context of the word, not complex) when I take into account that there are multiple standards for one subject, all of which are supposed to synthesized into a single grade in, I don't know, problem solving. Do I assess each standard individually and then average them out to arrive at a final grade? In this scenario, I would be reducing the big idea into smaller pieces to assess and then putting it back together to arrive at a score. But it is not just a score or a grade I am arriving at after this process, it is a standard that is compared to other students. Where does the concept of grade level come into this? I get the standards, I just don't see how we say that each is appropriate to a certain age level.
I have met a lot of grade five students, and I would be hard pressed to lump them into leveled categories and say with authority that this is the level they are at right now. Learning is so variable and dynamic (is it emergent and fractal?) that I continue to struggle with what this means. I know what level my students are at if I compare them to themselves. I know how to get them to the next level in their own learning journey. I know how to motivate them to love learning and approach school with passion and curiosity. I know how to measure their success based on where they were at the beginning of the year, and where they are going. I do not know how to standardize and categorize them into levels of what a standard or big idea determines is important for a specific grade level. Is it seems so, I don't know the word, artificial? Something that teachers invented to make grading easier. Somewhere along the line we felt that the teachers opinion was not good enough, and we invented a system to measure learning with numbers, letters, or smiley faces. Can learning be measured with numbers? My gut says, no. My gut also says, it is damaging to the long term goals of education to try.
I don't know, and I don't think I ever will.
But, I will keep trying to figure it out.