Sub-Committee Reports On Classroom Groupings
By Michael McInnis Staff Reporter · September 22, 2011
Is it better to to group students in a classroom based on their similar skill levels (homogeneously) or do students do better when grouped with classmates of varying skills (heterogeneously)? That's the question that a Groupings Sub-Committee attempted to determine through a report presented to the School Committee at the September 15 meeting.
The Sub-Committee consisted of School Board members, Patrick Kennelly and Michael Walsh, Curriculum Supervisors Kathleen Shea and Patricia Kelley, Stacy Middle School Principal, Nancy Angelini, Middle School East Principal Craig Consigli, Woodland Elementary School Principal Linda Ashley, ELL (English Language Learners) Director Ann Feldman, and 7th grade teacher Paul Peloquin. The focus of the report was Stacy Middle School, which is currently in transition, moving from homogeneous groupings to heterogeneous.
Curriculum Supervisor Kathleen Shea detailed the history of the Sub-Committee, noting that prior to 2004, all classes at Stacy fell into the homogeneous category. In the period from 2004 to 2006, class groupings were changed to include students of different skill levels. "When we (the Sub-Committee) first met," she recalled, "we decided we needed to come up with two driving questions or questions that would focus our work." Those questions, which examined the impact of the changed groupings centered around "what assessment should be used to measure the success or effectiveness of the current model at Stacy?" and "what is the most effective grouping model for Stacy Middle School?"
Although the Sub Committee first presented a report to the School Board in 2009, they continued to gather data to "get a broader view of what was going on at Stacy", according to Shea. After a detailed report on the methods the Sub-Committee utilized to arrive at their determination, Shea reported, "We believe that the current grouping model at Stacy Middle School is working well and can promote positive student achievement".
Patrick Kennelly, speaking as a member of the Sub-Committee, noted that the conclusion was reached despite the fact that the available data "wasn't always whole, or you couldn't compare it the same" but that "when you compare (the previous and current grouping models) there was a modest growth with this (current grouping model). The growth was minimal," he admitted, "but in our minds, growth is a growth."
Kennelly further explained that, in his estimation, the current grouping model at Stacy might actually be classified as a "true-hybrid" because of the inclusion of special programs that are offered to "upper learners". Those programs are grouped homogeneously, with students of like abilities grouped together.
Kennelly said that when looking at other communities and how their school districts approach classroom grouping, "the trend is exactly where we are; switching to heterogeneous."
Stacy Middle School Principal, Nancy Angelini, received a nod from Kennelly for her hands-on involvement with student placement, saying, "It's done with a computer, but what Nancy does, is (that) she takes a very active approach, looking at the classrooms and making sure that there's a nice mix of students in there, so that everyone is being challenged."
Angelini responded that the school is focused on "trying to personalize for students, based on student needs". "One thing I can say (is) that we continue to strive to get better at it," she said.