Budget constraints have led to an experimental pilot program to merge the third and fourth grades in the Northville Central School District.
The program addresses two elementary school cuts at Northville. Normally the district would have two classes each for its third and fourth grades but for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school year, the district will experiment with having three classes of mixed third- and fourth-graders.
Northville Elementary Principal William Crankshaw said the classes will each contain approximately the same mix of students in terms of academic ability, behavior issues and gender. He said for reading and math, students from the three classes will be grouped according to ability into three sections with a lower group known as “approaching grade level”, a middle section called the “on target” group and an advanced group. For other classroom instruction, like science, each classroom of students will remain together for “whole class” instruction.
Northville’s third and fourth grades next year will have only about 61 combined pupils, the least of any two grade levels in the district, which normally has about 70 to 80 for any two grades put together.
Crankshaw said although the pilot program addresses the fact that the elementary school is slated to have two teachers cut he’s been thinking about a multiage classroom experiment irrespective of budget concerns. He said he’s been studying the issue as part of his doctoral thesis.
“I’ve been reading about this multiage grouping for several years as part of my research. It’s been on my mind and lot of the literature is starting to sing the praises of the one-room school house concept and making sure that individualized instruction is really happening,” he said. “Currently, we have processes in place to try to do that in the traditional setting, so this shouldn’t be all that new. Teachers are already encouraged to teach to a child’s needs.”
Northville Superintendent Kathy Dougherty said it was Crankshaw’s research into the multiage concept that convinced the Board of Education to implement the pilot program.
“We’re going to design the instruction in such a way to use these smaller groups to differentiate between the different-ability learners,” she said. “Instead of doing that within one grade level there might be some third- and fourth-graders in one reading group. The more advanced third-graders would more than likely be included in with the fourth-graders and the kids in the fourth-grade with some more serious reading issues would be in with the third-graders.”
Crankshaw said the multiage classroom should not be confused with “tracking,” a system once used in the public school system that divided students by ability.
“This multiage concept does not limit a child’s ability to excel. We’re bringing the children more individual attention. Tracking, typically, sentences a child to a certain period of time, and sometimes their entire school career, to be grouped or labeled. What we’re trying to do with ability grouping is a very short-term and fluid approach,” he said.
“We will use data and the children’s response to interventions to use individualized instruction to guide them in the direction we want them to go in. Frequently we’ll have a student starting out at approaching and end up in on target. It’s a fluid process. Throughout the year, a child can migrate between groups. If there was a good part of tracking it was this, individualized instruction.”
Northville has set up a group of parents and teachers that meet regularly to discuss the multiage classroom pilot program.
Northville on Tuesday evening conducted its public hearing for its 2011-12 proposed budget, which would spend $9.7 million and increase the tax levy 21 percent.