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Shaking Up the Classroom

There are no seventh-graders in the Lindsay Unified School District. Instead, in the “Content Level 7″ room at Washington Elementary, 10 students, ages 11 to 14, gather around teacher Nelly Lopez for help in writing essays. Eight sit at computers, plowing through a lesson on sentence structure, while a dozen advanced students work on assignments in pairs. The 4,100-pupil district at the base of the Sierra Nevada range is part of an experiment shaking up classrooms across the country. Called competency-based learning, it is based on the idea that students learn at their own pace and should earn credits and advance after they master the material—not just because they have spent a year in a certain class.