Grade Level Configuration

Information about grade configuration questions. CH-UH buildings currently house grades K-5, 6-8 and 9-12. Proposed configurations include PreK-3, 4-8 and 9-12 and the idea of campuses housing separate PreK-3 and 4-8 buildings, similar to Roxboro Elementary and Middle schools.

Jeff Talbert deputy superintendent of schools spoke to the whole committee in October. His comments are attached below.

What is important is to reduce the number of transitions that students must endure because each one causes a temporary setback in learning. These are usually overcome in a relatively short time. The primary effect of transitions on older students (above grade 4) is social-emotional. He said that the values and support of the community may have a far reaching effect on the success of students no matter what configuration they find themselves in. His comments are attached at the bottome

Martin West and Guido Schwerdt, both Harvard University professors published “The Impact of Alternative Grade Configurations on Student Outcomes through Middle and High School” in 2011. Data gathered in Florida allowed them to estimate the impact of attending public schools with different grade configurations on student achievement through grade 10. Their research says they “clearly support ongoing efforts in urban school districts to convert standalone elementary and middles schools into schools with K-8 configurations.” They also said more research is needed.

In 2008 the National Forum to Accelerate Middle School Reform published a great policy statement that includes a summary of research in the US. (Issue 5, July 2008.) Basically it says the grade configuration may have some bearing on student self-esteem, parent engagement and students were less likely to perceive threat in the school environment if they stayed in one building. But school size mattered more than configuration on academic outcomes. They recommended a number of criteria for higher achievement—none of which are really facilities related.

Comments from Jeff Talbert:

For as long as K-12 school have been in existence grade configuration has been a major topic of discussion for both community and district leaders. When the BOE gave our leadership team the charge of creating a comprehensive facilities plan Education Services was asked to research grade configuration and grade transitions and their effect on student achievement.  Tonight I am gong to share with you how each of these factors played into our recommendation.

Transitions

We know that transition no matter where they occur have a negative effect on student achievement.  With time the majority of students are able to overcome the effects of the transition but for some students it could take a year or more.  It was our goal to minimize the negative effects of transitions by placing them at natural breaks in the curriculum. 

Our own district data shows us that our 6th grade students show less growth than their 7th and 8th grade counter parts.  National research tells us that this phenomena is not unique to our district, but it is also found in middle schools across the country especially in those with high numbers of minority and low income students.

Grade Configuration

One of our main goals in creating our facilities plan was to continue to provide our students a world class education but to do it as efficiently as possible.  Our current configuration with seven smaller elementary building makes it difficult and cost prohibitive to offer the same high quality program in every building.  Specifically specialty programs such as gifted and special education.

The rigors of the New Learning Standars will create shifts in how we educate our students.  Some of the most prominent shifts are in English Language Arts and Mathematics.  These shifts would make what is essentially the current 9th grade reading lexile the new standard for 4th and 5th graders.  Beginning in 2014-2015 students will be required to read more nonfiction and informational text and interact with that text at a higher level than ever before.  In mathematics  the shif is based on giving the sutdents a strong foundation of conceptual knowledge, a high degree of procedural skill and fluency so that they can use their skills to solve complex math problem given to them in math class and across disciplines. 

In anticipation of these shiftw we embarked on our pathway initiative.  The pathway model allows students to interact with content in a manner that aligns to their innate skills and abilities.  The curriculum models adopted for the Creativity,, Discovery, and Society pathways require teachers to design inquiry based interdisciplinary lessons with a product focus.  This type of teaching and learning requires teachers to work in teams to create 21st century learning opportunities for students.   Effective teaming is something that most schools don’t do well because it requires stability in staff, significant time for planning and consistent enrollment numbers.

The research on teaming tells us that effective teams are usually made up of 5 to 7 teachers who work with 125 to 150 students.  It also says that these teams should stay together over a long period of time which will allow them to build the relationships necessary to work together effectively.  Keeping a well-functioning team together is our current configuration is very difficult because our staffing decision are heavily reliant on cohort size.  For instance if one or our building this year had 3 sections in the 3rd grade, 4 sections in the fourth grade and 3 sections in the 5th grade there would be a need to plan for an additional section in the 5th grade for the next year.  This would likely mean that one of the 4th grade team members would be asked to move to the 5th grade.  In the old paradigm of one teacher to twenty-five students this wouldn’t be a problem.  The moving teacher would have to familiarize themselves with the curriculum of their new grade level and would probably have to change rooms but their wouldn’t be much of an effect on the other grade level teachers.  In our new paradigm, teams of teachers will work together to meet the needs of all of their students.  Because of this organizing our facilities in a manner that would minimize the fluctuation of our building and cohort enrollments would make it easier for district and building leadership to keep teams together for a longer period of time.

 

After looking at all this information we determined that a K-8 configuration would  be best because it answers all of our district questions and it’s the only configuration supported by current data.

                – 6th graders in K-8 schools do better on standardized test than 6th graders in  6-8 schools.

                – 9th graders from K-8 schools do better than their counterparts from  traditional middle schools

                – It only causes one transition

 

The only thing wrong with this configuration is that it increases transportation

Makes it difficult for a large number of students to walk to school  (neighborhood schools)

 

After K-8 was ruled out we decided upon a 4-8 configuration

This configuration works because it happens at a natural shift in a curriculum – when students are moving from learning to read  and are moving towards reading to learn or using their mastery of math facts to solve problems across disciplines

School would be larger (less fluctuation in grade level enrollment)

4-8 also solves our transition problem:  In this configuration the student would remain in their building for5 years thus giving two additional years to overcome the effects caused by the transition.

4-8 configurations also address the social and emotional needs of our six graders by allowing them to still benefit from being exposed to older role models in the 7th and 8th grades.  as well as giving them opportunities to serve as leaders for the younger 4th and 5th grade students . 

It would allow us to offer music and gifted programs in all buildings which would simply eliminate the need to bus students or rotate teachers to offer these services.