Multi-Grade Grouping Gaining Favor?

By Hana Maruyama — October 24, 2013 1 min read
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At Lincoln-Erdman Elementary School in Sheboygan, Wis., a new program puts 4th and 5th grade students together in classes according to their skill levels, reports the Sheboygan Press. The program aims to allow teachers to tailor class time to students’ needs and to prepare students for middle school, where they will switch classrooms every period.

Jenny Burhop, a 4th grade teacher at the school, said, “Students that always kind of took a back seat and were afraid to raise their hand because there were so many students around them who knew more, those students are now starting to blossom because they’re like, ‘Whoa, I’m on equal ground here.’”

Burhop emphasized that the practice is not the same as “tracking” because the groups will be fluid. The Lincoln-Erdman teachers plan to consistently reassess their students’ progress--using standardized testing, teacher observations, and parent input--and move students as needed throughout the year.

Ability grouping remains a contentious topic among educators. In a recent discussion on Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo, educator and author Rick Wormeli wrote that “homogeneous, not heterogeneous, grouping is the way to go--as long as it’s temporary and group membership is dynamic, not static"--a view that supports this type of program. However, in the next blog post in the discussion, high school principal Carol Burris, a vocal opponent of tracking, lamented that ability grouping is making a comeback, saying it “result[s] in racially stratified classes” and is not supported by research. She recommended differentiation and flexible groups within a multi-level classroom.

Teachers, what are your thoughts? Does grouping kids based on skill level across grades work? Why or why not? What are the caveats here? And the benefits?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.