District 41 to take another look at combining grades

 
 
Posted10/16/2015 5:37 AM
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  • Paul Gordon

    Paul Gordon

Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41 will revisit a plan to place students in "multi-age" classrooms instead of conventional grades.

Currently, fourth and fifth graders take literacy classes together as "Level 3" students, a two-year program.

In early January or late February, the district will evaluate that model and consider expanding it to younger students. But some parents worry that, academically and socially, second and third grades are too different to combine.

Superintendent Paul Gordon said he hasn't made a formal recommendation yet, but added that the district needs to have a "philosophical discussion" about how it groups students into classes.

Before Gordon's hiring in July 2013, his predecessor, Ann Riebock, and the then-school board outlined a plan in which "like learners" are placed into classes based on their skills and grasp of the curriculum, among other factors, instead of their ages.

Gordon says the concept "is that age should not define what a student can learn or cannot learn. It's really about can we continue moving kids on because there are some students who are older who may still need some support and vice versa."

In March 2013, the school board decided to phase in the Think Tank plan to combine second and third grades, as well as fourth and fifth, for certain classes.

But the district delayed the rollout after teachers feared that the younger students weren't ready for the shift and that "second-grade writing may be significantly different from third-grade writing," Gordon said.

"There is some evidence, but I still believe that age shouldn't define what a student should know or can learn," he said. "So I do believe that there are some second-graders who are absolutely ready to be pushed on."

Gordon said the district will seek feedback from PTA councils and its teachers. Officials also have timed the discussion to when they expect to get back the results of an anonymous survey that will be done in January or February, polling teachers, parents and students in fourth through eighth grades.

Board members Kurt Buchholz and Stephanie Clark have said the district has adopted too many instructional changes without enough analysis.

"I don't know how our staff is going to differentiate and figure out what's attributable to what," Buchholz said.

Board member Patrick Escalante said the scores on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, developed by the Northwest Evaluation Association, are just one consideration in the decision to group students in classes. Besides fourth- and fifth-grade literacy, early childhood and some special education classes are multi-age.

"As MAP is a data point, there's some soft conversations that are happening between a teacher and the administration to help develop when a kid needs to be evaluated in a different direction positively or through corrective action," he said.

The last survey results, presented in April 2014, showed only 19 percent of teachers voted to extend the approach to second and third grades for literacy/social studies in the following year.

Fourteen percent supported the current practice without expanding to the younger grades; 24 percent said "it's too early to tell"; 14 percent favored returning to traditional classrooms grouped by grade level, not age; and 29 percent said, "I'm not sure."

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