“Educating children in age-based groups and holding them accountable to grade-level standards means we cannot address individual differences.”
Without a doubt, there are some inherent problems with our current practices of age-graded schools and grade-level standards. As both Tomlinson and Cuban point out, students of the same age all have varying levels of background knowledge and abilities, and may learn at completely different paces. Therefore, it does not quite make sense to put them all in the same classroom and teach them all the same material at the same time. The inevitable result of this is that some students will fall behind while others are bored with work that is too easy for them. And yet, this is precisely the approach that grade-level standards seem to suggest – that all students of the same age should be learning the same things at the same time.
It seems incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile the teaching of these standards with the knowledge about intelligence discussed in Tomlinson’s chapter. We know that in order for students to learn best, they each need to do so differently and need to be given the opportunity to create a personal meaning out of information. This certainly sounds like it requires the type of individualized instruction that would not be given in a class in which the teacher was trying to simply meet the standards and prepare students for standardized testing.
However, I would like to argue that the two are not mutually exclusive – that you actually can teach children in age-based groups, meet the standards, and provide individualized instruction. In fact, I do not think it is possible for every student in a class to appropriately reach the standards without paying attention to individual differences. Some students will naturally learn what they need to know very quickly, and they can be given additional activities to further and deepen their knowledge beyond the scope of the standard. On the other hand, there will be students who will require a lot of additional time and support just to meet a particular standard. Sure, it is possible to teach the same lessons to every student, and it might even be possible to get them all to pass a test. However, this method would not result in each student having deep or thorough understanding of the topics in each standard, and therefore would truly be doing each and every one of them a disservice. While it is certainly not easy, I do think there is a compromise that can be reached and a balance that can be struck in which each student is held accountable for the same standards and yet is also given instruction based on individual differences.