ERG SES D 08, Academic Achievement and Education
Multigrade classrooms are classrooms in primary schools where two or more grade levels are educated by one teacher in the same room. Multigrade classes are an international phenomenon and are also referred to as combination clases, composite classes and vertically-grouped classes. Multigrade classes are found in Australia, America, Africa and several European countries including Finland, Sweden, Austria, Norway, England and Ireland. In some instances, multigrade classes are formed as a result of economic necessity while in other situations they are formed by choice due to their perceived benefits. Due to the broad range of diverse abilities which are a typical characteristic of multigrade classrooms, teachers have opportunities to utilise flexible grouping models which enable them to develop a strong focus on individual learning needs and capitalize on the heterogeneity that exists within the classroom. Children educated in multigrade classrooms demonstrate the ability to be independent and co-operative learners, display innovative thinking and show tolerance towards others. Studies examining academic achievements in multigrade classrooms report conflicting results. It is widely reported that the academic outcomes for children in multigrade classes are the same as those of children in single-grade classes. However, variations occur when academic outcomes are disaggregated according to gender and by grade-level combinations.
The variation in outcomes is partly due to the large variations that exist between the study settings; these studies have taken place in different jurisdictions, with teachers holding significantly different qualifications and delivering different curricula. Moreover, variations exist between those we are interested in studying; the studies have involved pupils of different race and ethnicities, of ages and in different multigrade groupings. It is not surprising, then, that studies conclude that further research is needed to explore the academic outcomes for children educated in multigrade classes compared to their peers in traditional single grade classes.
The central focus of this study is the academic outcomes for students in multigrade classes. The study seeks to establish if the outcomes for children in multigrade classes are the same as the outcomes for children in single-grade classes. It also investigates if the effect of multigrade structures differs by gender. It also explores if there are differences in academic achievement for 9-year-old children in classes where teachers teach two, three or four separate grade levels.
The theoretical framework is underpinned by Bronfenbrenner’s socio-ecological theory of human development (1979). Within this framework, it is understood that human development takes place through interactions between the person and their environment. These are termed ‘proximal processes’. The development and the outcomes for each individual child cannot be interpreted in isolation, but rather depend on a broad variety of contextual influences. These influences form a complex, multi-layered network of systems, some of which interact with each other, which influence the lives of humans. For most children, their lives and development are influenced by a number of systems within which they interact with varying degrees of directness. While they may have frequent, direct engagement within their homes, their peer groups and their classrooms, their lives are also influenced by their school communities, their local communities and the wider socio-cultural environment. This research recognises the direct and indirect influences of these systems on the development of the child. It acknowledges the interconnectedness of the child and the world in which he/she lives and attempts to describe how these systems can best influence the outcomes of children as they learn. Most specifically, it focuses on the interactions of the child with and within the school environment.
This research involves secondary analysis of data collected from a national longitudinal study of children in Ireland called the ‘Growing Up in Ireland’ study. The ‘Growing Up in Ireland’ [GUI] study is funded by the Irish government and is being undertaken in a joint collaboration between the Economic and Social Research Institute and Trinity College Dublin. In 2007, data collection commenced on a nationally representative sample of 8568 nine- year- old children. In excess of 2700 of these of these children were in multigrade classes at age 9. This paper reports on the analysis of data supplied by the children in their questionnaires which they completed in the presence of an interviewer, questionnaires completed by their teachers and the results of mathematics and reading assessments. The academic outcomes data reported in this study are gleaned from the research team administered norm-referenced reading and mathematics assessments administered as part of the study. The study analyses the outcomes for boys and for girls and compares them with their single-grade counterparts. The study uses measures of achievement in mathematics and reading at two separate time points across their school career. A number of statistical procedures pertinent to the analysis of longitudinal data will be utilised in the analysis of data. These will include univariate, bivariate and multivariate procedures. •To measure student achievement in mathematics and reading, the results of norm referenced assessments will be analysed using univariate statistical techniques. •To compare student achievement according to gender, independent samples t-tests will be undertaken of norm referenced assessments of reading and mathematics. •To analyse mean differences between boys’ and girls’ achievements in mathematics and reading, ANOVA will be undertaken.
This paper will report on the key findings from the preliminary analysis of the achievement of children in multigrade classrooms and make links to current research literature in an effort to explain patterns in findings. Preliminary analyses indicate that on average, children in multi-grade classes answered a larger percentage of the mathematics test items correctly (M= 52.76, SD=21.48) than children in single grade classes (M= 53.72, SD = 21.38). This difference is not significant, t(5469)=.088, p=0.93. While the overall academic outcome of arising from the norm-referenced mathematics assessments appears to be similar for students in multigrade and single-grade settings, within the multigrade setting boys’ outcomes were higher than girls. Within the multigrade classes, at age 9, males answered a larger percentage of answers correctly (M=55.37, SD= 21.70) than females (M=51.96, SD =20.99). This difference was significant (t(2693)=4.13, p=.000). The results of the norm referenced reading assessment were similar among students in single grade and multigrade classes. In this assessment children in multigrade classes answered a similar percentage of questions correctly (M=67.96, SD =21.41) to children in single grade classes (M= 67.54 SD =21.88) . This difference was not significant (t(5583) =.799, p=.425). Females in multigrade classes scored a higher percentage of questions correctly in the norm-referenced reading assessment (M=68.27, SD=20.72) than males (M=67.75, SD=21.92) in multigrade classes. This difference was not significant (t(2658) =.624, p=.544). It is planned to analyse the academic outcomes of nine-year-old children in greater detail. Other analysis which will be examined will pertain to the academic attainment of these children as they progress into post-primary school.
Bennett, N., O’Hare, E. & Lee, J. 1983. Mixed age classes in primary schools: A survey of practice. British Educational Research Journal, 9, 41-56. Bronfenbrenner, U. 1979. The ecology of human development: Experiments by design and nature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Growing Up in Ireland accessed via the Irish Social Science Data Archive -www.ucd.ie/issda Hyry-Beihammer, E.K. & Hascher, T. 2015. Multi-grade teaching practices in Austrian and Finnish primary schools. International Journal of Educational Research 74: 104-113. INTO. 2003. Teaching in Multigrade Classrooms: An INTO report. Dublin. Little, A. W. 2001. Multigrade teaching: towards an international research and policy agenda. International Journal of Educational Development 21: 481-497. Mulryan-Kyne, C. The preparation of teachers for multigrade teaching. Teaching and Teacher Education 23: 501-514. Northern Ireland Assembly. 2017. Are composite classes bad for children? [Online. Available: http://www.assemblyresearchmatters.org/2017/06/29/are-composite-classes-bad-for-children/ [Accessed 01/10/2017]. Quail, A. & Smyth, E. 2014. Multigrade teaching and age composition of the class: The influence on academic and social outcomes among students. Teaching and Teacher Education, 43, 80-90. Veenman, S. 1995. Cognitive and Noncognitive Effects of Multigrade and Multi-Age Classes: A Best-Evidence Synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 65 (4), 319-381.
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