Glen Ellyn District 41 to drop 'multi-age' classes

  • Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41 Superintendent Paul Gordon announced Monday that fourth and fifth graders will no longer be taught literacy in multi-age classes.

    Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41 Superintendent Paul Gordon announced Monday that fourth and fifth graders will no longer be taught literacy in multi-age classes. Daily Herald file photo

Posted3/8/2016 5:11 AM

Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41 will go back to assigning students to traditional grade levels, shifting course from a plan that created "multi-age classrooms" and drew criticism from parents, teachers and several school board members.

Fourth- and fifth-graders currently take literacy classes together, a scaled-back version of the district's original vision to group students by skill, not age. Superintendent Paul Gordon said test scores, results of a parent and teacher survey and discussions with teachers factored into the decision to return students to conventional grades in the new school year.


"It became an anomaly within the structure of the overall system," Gordon said.

School board members Stephanie Clark and Kurt Buchholz commended Gordon Monday for making what they called a "touch decision," but fellow member Patrick Escalante protested the move.

Gordon's predecessor, Ann Riebock, and the then-school board outlined a plan in March 2013 to introduce multi-age classrooms in phases at the district's four elementary schools. The plan called for fourth- and fifth-graders -- as well as second- and third-graders -- taking literacy, plus math and science classes together.

But the district delayed the rollout of multi-age classes -- a cornerstone of the so-called Think Tank plan -- to continue studying the idea. Teachers also worried younger students weren't ready for the shift.

"The prospective was that the second-grader was very different from the third-grader writer," Gordon said.

He also announced that the district will discontinue "looping," when educators teach the same set of students for more than one school year in second through fifth grades.

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Clark and Kurt Buchholz took their seats last spring and often question curriculum changes. Clark said teachers of younger elementary students early on raised concerns about multi-age classes.

"We seem to take a tone of convincing people why we should do something maybe versus fully evaluating it, so hoping we can walk away from that," Clark said, "because I do wonder how much money and time we've spent on this the past couple years training teachers and having substitutes and using institute days to train for multi-age."

Escalante, however, though the initiative was "vetted out thoroughly."

"I want to call out those leaders and those champions that did go through the Think Tank process and did take the step forward, and being those pioneers and being those thought leaders to drive some of those things forward," Escalante said. "I readily admit it was a bumpy road, but I think it was a road that would have gotten smoother in the future."

Gordon said he was pleased with "strong fifth-grade literacy data" from the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test. Fourth-grade scores, though, showed no significant change since they began taking Level 3 literacy classes with their older peers, he said.


"But the lack of support at that lower grade levels really didn't make it a viable structure within a system ongoing," Gordon said.

Reviews of multi-age classrooms also were mixed, according to the anonymous survey results presented to the school board Monday. Overall, 312 staff members, 957 parents and 1,788 students were polled in January and February.

When asked whether they felt their child benefits from multi-age classrooms, 42 percent of parents of kids in fourth through seventh grades agreed. Forty-five percent of all other parents answered "not sure."

Thirty-one percent of fourth- and fifth-grade teachers, by contrast, called for a "return to traditional grade-level configurations."

Next year, teachers will continue specializing in certain subjects, instead of teaching multiple disciplines during the school day. Students in second through fifth grades this year were taught by one teacher for math/science and a different one for literacy/social studies.

Seventy-one percent of parents of kids in second through fifth grades agreed their child benefits from the model, while 86 percent of teachers of those grades agreed their students benefit, the survey showed.

"Content specialization came back very strong from teachers and parents across the board," Gordon said. "I feel like that's a really good structure for our district to be using for our second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-grade teachers."

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