Friday, April 29, 2016

Split-Level Classes may be coming to Seattle Schools

From SPS to parents:

Dear SPS Family,

Class sizes will be smaller for students in kindergarten through third grade beginning this fall, thanks to funding from the 2016 Legislature. The funding comes with strict class-size requirements for the primary grades. These requirements must be followed in order to receive the funding. Previously, schools were allowed to assign teachers as needed across grades K-5. Under the new funding model, instructional staff will be allocated across grades K-3 at specific ratios. These ratios mean small class sizes in grades K-3, but may also mean more split-grade-level classrooms. A split-grade-level classroom consists of two grade levels; for example, 10 second-graders and 10 third-graders in a single classroom of 20 total students. 
 
Split-grade-level classrooms already exist in Seattle and other districts, but we anticipate more of them this fall. Last year, Seattle Public Schools staffed to have no more than two split-grade-level classrooms per school. This new funding means that this fall, schools may have three or four split classrooms, depending upon the enrollment at each school. Lower class-size funding can be used creatively. For example, a certificated teacher could be hired as a learning specialist and work with classroom teachers in the K-3 grades to help with student academic needs. Principals are working on how best to use the new funding according to state requirements. 


Q & A
What’s the difference between a split-grade-level classroom and a multi-age classroom?

Multi-age classes are created to differentiate based on achievement levels in areas such as reading and math. Split classrooms are created due to an uneven or insufficient number of students in two separate grade levels, which are combined into one classroom.


Why might there be more split-grade-level classrooms in 2016-17?
Because the state funding requires smaller class sizes, many schools may not have sufficient enrollments to make up full classes at each grade level. For every student the district is over the ratios, the district loses money.  Adherence to the strict state class-size ratios may create more split-grade-level classes.


Are split-grade-level classrooms a challenge for students and teachers?
Split-grade-level classrooms in Seattle and other districts are not unusual; schools typically have one or more split-grade-level classrooms in the building. Split-grade-level classrooms do require teachers to use their skills, training and materials to teach two grades in the same room.  Learning specialists funded through this initiative may provide additional support. 


Will teachers receive training to manage split-grade-level classrooms?
Yes, professional development is planned to support educators who will be teaching split-grade-level classrooms. Teachers in the district already experienced with instructing students in a split classroom will be utilized for their expertise. 


How do schools decide which classes will be split-grade-level classes?
During the spring budget process, principals were given instructions on how to configure classrooms to meet the required state-determined K-3 class-size targets. Their decisions will depend in part on enrollment numbers through early fall. 

35 comments:

dj said...

Could you post more details about the class sizes that will be "required"? And about the extent to which the requirements will be enforced? I have two kids sitting in 28-student kindergarten classes as we speak, so I am, as you might imagine, quite curious.

Anonymous said...

I just don't get it. Is there any evidence that students are better off in a split class with a teacher who has never taught a split class before? Why not just a larger class size that might be an easier adjustment for the teacher? It just seems there is a lot that depends on the school, like who the teachers are, how much space the school has, etc. Why such a one size fits all plan? Sounds...

Half-baked

Maureen said...

Multi-age classes are created to differentiate based on achievement levels in areas such as reading and math. Split classrooms are created due to an uneven or insufficient number of students in two separate grade levels, which are combined into one classroom.

Is there any reason a school whose numbers required "split" classrooms wouldn't create "multi-age" classrooms? Why not group older or more advanced 2nd graders with average 3rd graders for example? (I can see an argument against "fast" 2nd graders" with "slow 3rd graders" that's not what I am suggesting. I can also see why schools that only have one or two classes per grade level might not have any flexibility in this area.)

Anonymous said...

Maureen,

Because schools can't reorganize curriculum and schedules every year depending on the whims of the Legislature and have any intentionality in how they teach kids from year to year.

Half-baked

Anonymous said...

@Half-baked. Most teachers do not like and do not want to do split classes. The reason we have them is because the number of kids who enroll in a school do not neatly fall into perfect classroom sizes. For instance if the goal is for each first grade to have 24 kids, but 54 first graders enroll, a school that has two first grade classrooms would frequently raise classroom size for first grade to 27 kids instead of doing a first/second grade split. In the past, schools were allowed to make those decisions. Now, the district is saying that to get McCleary money the classes need to exactly match, or not go over, McCleary numbers. So even if you wanted to raise classroom size to 27, which is what most teachers would prefer over doing a split, the district is wanting schools to do splits. Schools have always done splits, but now there will be a lot more.
No Splitsville


Anonymous said...

The tone of this seems like, "this is what you get when you demand smaller class sizes! Hahaha!"

I personally like mixed aged classrooms, but that's because I'm coming from Montessori and its deliberate. I like having the same teacher for a couple years it cuts down on anxiety in my kiddos.

This just seems like a mess and a way to follow the rules, but not do what's best for kids. Yet again.

Mag mom

Anonymous said...

Sorry, not "mixed aged" but 2 grades in 1 class. That's what I meant.

Mag mom

Anonymous said...

Our child was placed in what was supposed to be a 2/3 split class, but it ended up being a 3rd grade class, using 3rd grade curriculum. It would have been okay, except our child moved onto 3rd grade and did the exact same science units, did not learn any new math, and essentially repeated a year. If split classes are created in the fall, without a clear plan for how curriculum will be covered for each grade, mixed grade classes could be a disaster. I don't have confidence that the district will do this well. They are probably leaving it to the teachers to figure it out.

-live&learn

Anonymous said...

It sounds like SPS is just playing a shell game with classrooms to get the extra money from the State, without having to hire any additional teachers.

-StepJ

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

-live&learn
We had the exact same experience in a 2/3 split. 3rd grade was taught. There was no differentiation. Next year, in 3rd grade exact same everything. I plan on making it very clear to all of my 3 kids' teachers that we will be very upset if any are put in a split.
-Been there done that

Anonymous said...

I like the smaller class size, but I too worry about meeting kids needs while attempting to teach two different grades. Not only do you have to teach different materials for different grade-levels, you also should be differentiating to meet each child's needs. Seems pretty challenging to me.
No Splits

Anonymous said...

What good is a somewhat smaller class size if you only get half the attention?

EE

hschinske said...

My experience with a kid in a 4/5 split class was the opposite -- I couldn't see why my 4th grader couldn't easily be accommodated with 5th-grade math, when the textbooks were right there and all, but the teacher was having none of it.

Personally I think one reasonable way to decide who goes in a split class is to have older kids from the younger grade and younger ones from the older grade, so that there is less developmental difference (similar level of wiggliness, etc.) between the oldest and youngest, which makes classroom management easier.

Helen Schinske

Po3 said...

Too bad they got rid of Spectrum, could have created split grade classes with a combo of Spectrum and general ed students.

TechyMom said...

Why can't SPS ever fix one problem without creating another. If you end up with 30 1st graders, and the max class size is 20 you have 2 classes of 15. That's a good thing, not a problem to solve.

Anonymous said...

techy mom-

That would be a great idea in a district with unlimited space. Very few schools, if any, could afford to have classes that small because they quickly run out of classrooms.

The real problem here is that the district can't do easy stuff very well, so they definitely won't do this well. Split classes are more challenging for both the teachers and students. Teachers don't get the help they need as it is.

-ringo

TechyMom said...

Sorry, I have no sympathy for managers who were closing schools as the leading edge of both a baby boom and an economic boom was arriving at kindergarten. The lack of space was completely preventable. Classes were too big before it as well, and are much larger than other states. Rent some space and open new schools in it. No more excuses.

Anonymous said...

TechyMom-We need more state funding, higher school taxes & a state income tax to lower class sizes etc. Developer impact fees or another great big levy to fund many more schools. Any of what I just mentioned will help. LI does not have these issues. I can't help but notice in comparison they have very small school districts & very high taxes. They are also leading the national opt out testing movement.
- Dana

Anonymous said...

Anyone have experience with a split grade class and a child who is struggling, and may have an LD, like dyslexia? Pros/cons? We are also considering private school, although we have been long supporters of public school education.

Ramona H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ramona H said...

We chose our K5 years ago because it embraced split classes. My kids were in several and it worked out well. In MS and hs they are also exposed to classrooms with kids of different ages. Lots of configurationstuff can work.

Anonymous said...

The only way a split can work well, is if there are other split classes in the building with the same split of grades. That way, teachers can send second graders to one room for math and first graders to another room for their first grade math class. Reading and writing in elementary is much easier to differentiate than math, students can stay in their home room for ELA. Then, you have to plan which science kits will be taught for the next two years, to make sure the kids don't get the same kit two years in a row. Split classes can work with diligent, flexible planning with other teachers and admin.

-beenthere

Anonymous said...

My kid ended up with the same science kits two years in a row. The kits are boring enough having to do them once...

no repeats

Jet City mom said...

I have two grown kids and I love split classrooms.
Especially when they have the teacher for two years.
Lots of advantages but it is more challenging fir the teacher but good use of parents can make it work.

Anonymous said...

I have heard that grade 2/3 splits are problematic at schools which use MAP testing for 2nd graders and SBAC + Amplify for 3rd graders. This is especially difficult for schools lacking computer labs. Also, most schools don't have enough staffing to have someone who can monitor testing for 1/2 the class while the other 1/2 receives instruction.

-North-end Mom

Anonymous said...

When my child had to repeat science kits, after having been in a "split" class, the teacher just said something to the effect of, "now you can be an expert and help others." Lame. The split resulted in gaps in math knowledge and one year of lost science instruction. There is a difference between planned splits, with curriculum adjustments, versus splits for the convenience of class size adjustment, which may have no plan for preventing repeated or missed content. My guess is the district has no real plan for curriculum adjustments.

-live&learn

Charlie Mas said...

Again, we see the Central Office make decisions based on an ideal state that doesn't exist in the schools. The Central Office waives their magic wand to create differentiation and *poof* it appears everywhere so split classes aren't a problem, they are handled in the normal course of differentiation. Except, of course, differentiation doesn't actually exist. There was no *poof* and differentiation didn't start to happen.

It would be good if the Central Office stopped relying on magical thinking.

Anonymous said...

Jet City Mom, it sounds like your children were in multi age classrooms which are not the same as split classrooms. The district explains the difference in the email. There is a developmental reason behind multi age classrooms and they often loop so that kids can experience being in both the younger and older age groups and develop a strong relationship with a teacher. The split class my family experienced a few years agon was based on the school/district/teacher needs to get butts in all the seats and pretty much only to get butts in all the seats. There was minimal planning put into how to group the kids so that their needs would best be served. My kid did the same Science two years in a row, but honestly, that was the least of our worries. There was walk to Math so she learned Math. Everything else about the whole year was a disaster. I felt that she was little more than a piece of inventory being put into a storage space where they had room for her. She felt it too (without being able to put it into words) and was miserable. I agree with Mag Mom about the tone of this letter. It's reprehensible. The district's responsibility is to serve the needs of the students. The students are not at school to meet the needs of the district, the teachers, or anyone else. Problem solving would involve all the smart people down at HQ saying "so we have this McCleary ruling and we're short on space, how are we going to plan to meet the needs of all of our students?" What they've done instead here is shrug and say "Oh well, this is tough. Let's just tell parents we know split classes suck but if we're going to be forced to have small classes they will have to put up with kids being treated as inventory so we can fit all the butts into the seats spread out among all the classrooms." They don't even make a pretense here that they care about kids. I predict this will result in many unhappy kids and families

GenEd Mom

Anonymous said...

I am also fairly offended at the tone of the letter, the more I think about it. What has happened is they were given extra money to reduce class sizes in k-3. Theoretically this should mean- smaller class sizes in k-3. Yay. But instead, our district is mismanaged and top heavy, so what it means is the SAME size class sizes for the most part, with the poison pill of split classes, too, and they are blaming the state instead of placing the blame where it should go- on themselves, for stealing money meant for our kids' classrooms. For shame.

We also had a bad split experience. I don't think it has to be that way. If the teacher wants to do it, if the curriculum can be adjusted, if the class is smaller than 1 grade, and if the kids are chosen carefully, I think it can be great. Our year it was a teacher who did not want to do it, with the younger side of the class chosen carefully to be advanced and quiet(or just randomly were that way?), but the older side fairly haphazard and disproprotionately disruptive, and the teacher had never taught kids as young as either grade(so had extra trouble with classroom management), who was given no leeway and so was literally trying to teach two science kits at once. It was the worst educational year any of my children have had. The next year a teacher who is a favorite of the administration was given a split of the same grades, half from the grade she usually teaches, and from all reports it went swimmingly. She reinterpreted the science kits, did her own civics and writing, and the kids were integrated into regular walk to math. If we'd had that experience, I bet we'd love it. That just requires so much luck, though, so it seems it goes poorly more often than does a single grade classroom. So it feels like a loss, because it is. And because enrollment changes so much every year at every school besides option schools (so do option schools not have to have these split classes?) they are just going to be pop up emergency management tools, not planned and thought out pathways, so even less likely to be successful.

-sleeper

Melissa Westbrook said...

"now you can be an expert and help others." No. That is what some teachers like to say about gifted students in a class. Kids can learn from each other but every child has to be learning.

Anonymous said...

My son was in a 2nd grade/3rd grade split class two years ago and it worked out well. The 3rd graders were pulled out for math and the math specialist led their math class while the classroom teacher taught the second graders. The classroom teacher was able to provide appropriate levels of instruction for reading/writing. I can't remember what happened with science. It was one of my son's favorite years.

Like most things, the principal and the teacher make all the difference in how well it's executed.

Jane

Anonymous said...

@ Jane, do all schools have a math specialist? I never heard about one at our elementary school...

EE

Anonymous said...

Not all schools can afford to hire a math specialist. Most small schools can't afford one, unless they have Title 1 funds. If the math specialist is funded through Title 1 funds, then they are supposed to be used for intervention purposes only.

-North-end Mom

Anonymous said...

SPS utilizes split classes already, in order to provide the least possible staffing. So why the letter? It seems like the state requires some "notification" of a practice that is common in SPS?

Also: SPS appears to be narrowly interpreting "class size reduction." I have some doubts that it's strictly to fulfill state requirements.

-seen plenty (of splits, good and bad)