During my internship I was placed into a rural school which used split grades or multiage classrooms. There were classrooms with a grade 1-2 split, a 2-3 split, a 4-5 split, and a 5-6 split. I was placed in the grade 2-3 split. After about a month and a half into the school year the decision was made to make some changes. The grade 1, 2, and 3's would be separated into their own grade specific classrooms. For the remainder of my internship I noticed a distinct positive change in the students after the switch away from the multi-grade classrooms. The question that I as left with, and will be the topic of my paper is: Was the positive change I saw in the students real? Or was it a bias I have? What are the advantages and disadvantages of multi-grade classrooms? The relevance of this issue is based in the students well being. As educators we should be focused on what is best for the students. If there is a distinct disadvantage to the students within multi-graded we as education professionals should be on the frontlines standing up for the students' best interest.
The multi-graded classroom got their start as the one-room school, consisting of many students of different ages and abilities. If you had asked a student from one of these schools what grade he or she was in, you would likely have received a bewildered look. These early schools were non-graded. Students of different ages learned and played together as a single class. (Wragg, 1984) With the beginning of the industrial revolution the ideal of mass public education took root and the practice of graded schools began. The graded school system provided a means of organizing and classifying the increased number of urban students of the 1800s. Educators found it easier to manage students by organizing them into age divisions or grades, further solidifying graded school organization (Goodlad & Anderson, 1963).
The graded school system was driven by a need for managing large numbers of students rather than for meeting individual student needs. Critics of the graded school were quick to emphasize this deficiency. Rule (1983) a critic of graded education, as pointing out that it is absurd to expect children to be at the same stage of development in a given grade. But the fact remains that the graded school has survived as the dominant organizational structure since its emergence over 200 years ago. The graded school has simply become the norm, the predominant way teachers and parents think about schools.
Yet the multigrade classroom remains an important and necessary organizational pattern of education. In 1918, there were 196,037 one-room schools, representing 70.8 percent of all public schools in the United States. By 1980, less than 1,000 of these schools remained (Muse, Smith & Barker, 1987). Many school districts combine classrooms as a cost-cutting measure. Thus, the multigrade classroom still holds a significant place in schools,...