Ask someone, who was an elementary student in the 60s and 70s, if they remember SRA Reading and you may hear fond memories about various colored folders and the desire to reach the next color. My experience is that many of them can even remember particular readings. SRA was a program for Mastery Level Reading–a form of CBL. SRA Reading Kits were first published in 1957. They were the creation of Don H. Parker, and were created to solve a very real classroom problem–the need for individualized reading instruction. In his book, A History of the Reading Laboratory, he wrote “I tried to formulate my goal: to let each student start where he is and move ahead as fast and as far as his learning rate and capacity would let him. (Nowadays I’d say ‘him or her’)”
The concept behind SRA Reading was simple: based on pretests, students began their reading program at their current reading and then progressed at their own rate. They could not go to the next color, until they could show mastery in the current level. The color coded charts and folders provided students with tangible evidence of progress. The most significant downside to the program was that students sometimes measured their progress against others, rather than against their own progress. Achievement became competitive. Some thrived in this environment, and others became discouraged. Studies have shown, regardless, that the programs was (and still is) an effective educational program.
Yes, the SRA program still exists (http://www.srareadinglabs.com/) and now even comes in an electronic version. But can we ever eliminate students comparing themselves to each other? Should we? Or, should we, can we, develop programs where it won’t matter? That is just one of the challenges education has always faced. Personalize Learning Plans may be the best method for achieving CBL, while eliminating the comparisons that often create discouragement, dropouts, and failures.