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October 1, 1992
Vol. 50
No. 2

Response / The Nongraded Elementary School:Great Potential, But Keep It Simple

    Instructional StrategiesInstructional Strategies
      At the 1992 American Educational Research Association meeting in San Francisco, Roberto Guiterrez and I presented a review of research on the achievement effects of the nongraded elementary school. In general, our findings were consistent with those of Barbara Pavan's review; we also found many more positive than negative effects. However, we compared effect sizes for each study to characterize the strength of the effects, and we broke the studies into four main categories according to program characteristics. We found very different effects according to these characteristics.
      The most positive achievement effects were for the simpler forms of nongrading generally evaluated during the 1960s, early in the nongraded movement. We found a median effect size of +.46 for programs in which only one subject (almost always reading) was nongraded. These programs strongly resemble the Joplin Plan, cross-grade grouping for reading (see Slavin 1987). We also calculated a median effect size of +.34 for nongraded programs that incorporated multiple subjects but still primarily involved cross-grade grouping, not other elements.
      In the 1970s, as nongraded programs became more complex, began to incorporate individualized instruction, and became more like open schools, the achievement effects began to be much smaller. For programs incorporating individualized instruction, we found a median effect size of essentially zero (+.02). Effects of individually guided education were only slightly more positive (ES=+.11).
      Our conclusions suggest that the effectiveness of nongraded elementary programs depends in large part on the features of the program, especially the degree to which nongrading is used as a grouping method rather than as a framework for individualized instruction.
      It is hard to know how relevant these findings are to the conditions of today, when curriculum and instruction are changing rapidly. Yet at least they provide a cautionary note. There is no magic in nongradedness. Nongraded organization can contribute to instructional effectiveness, but the curriculum and instructional methods used within a nongraded framework are as important as the school organization plan in determining the ultimate effects.
      References

      Guitérrez, R., and R. E. Slavin. (April 1992). “Achievement Effects of Nongraded Elementary School: A Retrospective Review.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco.

      Slavin, R. E. (Fall 1987). “Ability Grouping and Student Achievement in Elementary Schools: A Best-Evidence Synthesis.” Review of Educational Research 57, 3: 293–336.

      End Notes

      1 Proportion of a standard deviation by which experimental groups exceed control groups.

      2 Copies of “Achievement Effects of the Nongraded Elementary School: A Retrospective Review” are available for $6.25 from the Center for Research on Effective Schooling for Disadvantaged Students, Johns Hopkins University, 3505 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.

      Robert E. Slavin has contributed to educational leadership.

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