ERIC Identifier: ED448935
Publication Date: 2001-01-00
Author: Kinsey, Susan J.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Champaign IL.
Multiage Grouping and Academic Achievement. ERIC Digest.
Multiage classes during the elementary school years have been an option of
educational practice in the United States since the introduction of graded
education in the 19th century. Since 1949, several research studies have
investigated the relationship between multiage grouping and academic
achievement. Reviews of research (Anderson & Pavan, 1993; Pratt, 1986;
Gutierrez & Slavin, 1992; Veenman, 1995) reveal inconsistent results. Based
primarily on standardized achievement tests, some studies report higher scores
for students in multiage classrooms. Other studies favor academic achievement
for students in single-age classrooms. More than half of the studies reveal no
differences. Veenman (1995) suggests that inconsistencies in research outcomes
may be attributed to an inconsistent definition of multiage education. Other
researchers (Anderson & Pavan, 1993; Nye et al., 1995; Pratt, 1986)
attribute confusion in research outcomes to weak controls for differences
between experimental and control conditions and to lack of detail in data
analysis-even though experimental studies should be designed to control for
these differences. Forced assignment of both students and teachers to multiage
classrooms may have contributed to negative academic outcomes in some situations
(Slaton et al., 1997). According to Lloyd (1999), the variety of ways multiage
grouping is conceptualized and implemented limits the ability of researchers to
make generalizations about the academic impact of the multiage model.
Despite inconsistencies in research findings, those studies that report
significant achievement outcomes for students in multiage classrooms over those
in single-age classes demonstrate gains in language (including vocabulary and
literacy measures) and mathematics (Gutierrez & Slavin, 1992; Nye et al.,
1995). Advantages have been reported for both high- and low-ability students
(Lloyd, 1999; Lou et al., 1996). However, gains are most consistently noted for
"blacks, boys, underachievers and students of low socioeconomic status"
(Anderson & Pavan, 1993, p. 50). In studies looking at long-term effects,
advantages for multiage students have been shown to increase the longer students
remain in multiage classrooms. Advantages in the academic realm are supported by
consistent reports across studies of specific benefits of multiage grouping in
the area of socioemotional development. Students in multiage classrooms
demonstrate more positive attitudes toward school, greater leadership skills,
greater self-esteem, and increased pro-social and fewer aggressive behaviors,
compared to peers in traditional graded classrooms (McClellan & Kinsey,
1999; Veenman, 1995). These variables have been shown to positively influence
achievement outcomes in traditional classrooms (Stipek, 1998) and, recently
(Kinsey, 2000), in multiage classrooms. In light of consistent positive benefits
for multiage grouping in the socioemotional realm, inconsistent outcomes in the
academic realm are surprising.
DEFINING MULTIAGE IS KEY TO INTERPRETING RESEARCH
While a variety of models are represented in the research,
contemporary implementation of multiage grouping is defined by Katz, Evangelou,
and Hartman (1990, p. 1) as "placing children who are at least a year apart in
age into the same classroom groups" so as to intentionally "optimize what can be
learned when children of different--as well as same--ages and abilities have
frequent opportunities to interact." The framework encourages the use of
child-directed and experiential learning. Where descriptive research data are
available, it appears that many multiage classrooms continue to make extensive
use of traditional teaching practices such as ability grouping and whole class
instruction, while some single-age classrooms use more developmentally
appropriate teaching practices than multiage classrooms. Further, most research
examining the impact of multiage grouping has not made clear whether the
multiage classroom provides a unique advantage in either the affective or
academic realm beyond what can be achieved by simply employing developmentally
A consistent factor in those studies that show positive achievement outcomes
for multiage students over same-age students is the use of a developmentally
appropriate approach to teaching, including teaming, cooperative group work,
integrated curriculum, and encouragement of interactions among students.
Research supports the use of developmentally appropriate teaching practices in
producing positive achievement outcomes (Hart, Burts, & Charlesworth,
(1997). In addition, a substantial body of research supports the use of
cooperative as compared to competitive or individualistic educational efforts.
In a synthesis of the results of over 375 studies, Johnson and Johnson (1994)
cite evidence that interactive involvement among classmates may be one of the
most cost-effective "support systems" for increasing academic achievement (p.
56). According to Slavin (1987), "Under the right motivational conditions, peers
can and, more important, will provide explanations in one another's proximal
zones of development [as described by Vygotsky], and will engage in the kind of
cognitive conflict needed for disequilibration and cognitive growth [as
described by Piaget]" (p. 1166). However, Slavin's work demonstrates that peer
interaction in and of itself does not enhance learning. Rather, learning
enhancement depends on the specific ways that the teacher guides those
CROSS-AGE INTERACTION AS THE UNIQUE VARIABLE
quantitative and qualitative analysis, a study by Kinsey (2000) supports
Slavin's (1987) work by suggesting a relationship between facilitated cross-age
interactions and achievement outcomes. Building on results from a study
reporting increased frequencies of pro-social behaviors of students in multiage
classrooms (McClellan & Kinsey, 1999), Kinsey demonstrated that higher
teacher ratings of student pro-social behaviors were significantly related to
greater student achievement outcomes on both standardized and report card
assessments. Statistical analysis demonstrated that students from multiage
classrooms achieved greater academic outcomes in relation to their abilities and
demonstrated greater increases in academic achievement than students of the same
and higher abilities from single-age classrooms when all classrooms employed
developmentally appropriate teaching practices. Kinsey reports data from teacher
questionnaires and interviews suggesting two major components of the multiage
classroom that contribute to academic achievement: first, the family-like
atmosphere that reduces the incidence of social isolation and encourages risk
taking that is associated with meaningful learning (Johnson & Johnson,
1994); and, second, the dynamic of the returning older students (who have more
classroom and educational experience) engaging in cross-age interactions in
learning activities. It is critical to note that the academic benefits
demonstrated for students in multiage classrooms by Kinsey may be the result of
the classroom teacher's active facilitation and encouragement of cross-age
learning opportunities. The unique contribution of multiage grouping may be its
capacity to address the needs of individual students by (1) creating an occasion
for scaffolding of growth opportunities provided by both the teacher and a
multiage peer group and (2) providing an environment in which close
relationships between teacher and student and among classmates allow for the
development of mutual trust and understanding. Results from Kinsey indicate that
both the combination of these relationships and the environment in which they
are formed make a significant contribution to the academic growth of students in
multiage classrooms, beyond the use of developmentally appropriate practices.
TO THE FUTURE
Effective research in the area of multiage
education is still in its infancy. In the current climate of accountability,
widespread acceptance of the multiage model in elementary schools is unlikely
until it is clear that multiage education leads to greater academic achievement.
If careful attention is given to definition and selection of multiage
classrooms, and detailed descriptions of classroom procedures are provided,
research outcomes may reliably indicate which specific aspects of multiage
classroom practices are most beneficial. However, because of the present
ambiguity in definitions of multiage education, educators who are currently
using the multiage model, and those who are contemplating its implementation,
need to assess the impact of their specific multiage classrooms on academic
achievement for students participating in these classrooms. At the same time,
researchers need to continue to explore through qualitative
measures--observational study and directed interviews with both teachers and
children--how the multiage classroom can contribute to academic achievement.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
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