K-1 Split Class

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Sept 1999

My daughter just started first grade at Thornhill Elementary. Much to our displeasure, she was placed in the K-1 split class. (Unfortunately, schools seem forced to institute split classes as a way of accommodating small classes in the lower grades and the larger classes in the upper grades--an unintended consequence of class size reduction.) There are 12 kindergarteners in the class and 9 first graders. I am quite concerned that my daughter will be getting cheated out of a bona fide first grade education and experience.

My husband and I debated back and forth about whether to make a big push to try and get our daughter switched to a different class, but finally decided against it because our daughter has now had 2 days in the class, loves her teacher, and is settled in. Additionally, our daughter has a chronic illness that requires special, though minimal, training on the part of the teacher. The training has already taken place and would have to be repeated (likely to really annoy the principal, district nurse, school secretary, etc. who all have to participate) if a change were to be made.

Our concern was that it would be disruptive and potentially damaging --both to our daughter and relationships with school personnel--to force a change at this late date.

So we have decided, with much reservation and anger (we had specifically requested our daughter not be placed in the split class) to leave our daughter where she is. I'd love to hear suggestions from parents about how we might work with the teacher to ensure that the entire first grade curriculum is being taught. I know there are two schools of thought pertaining to the pros and cons of a split class and I would love to hear the thoughts of parents who have had children in split classes. I'd also love to hear from any teachers with experience teaching split classes.

There is good news and bad news about split classes for K-1. The good news is that the kindegartners go home half way through the day so that the first graders get half the day with a very small class size: Which means that, for half of her day your child is getting much more personal attention than she would have if she had been in a normal first grade class. This means that the teacher, if she is really skilled can get a ton done in that time. KIds in split classes like 2-3 or 4-5 really can get the shaft since they are together all the time and the class has to be taught to the lower grade for the most part.

Strategy-wise, I'm afraid I don't have all that much advice except to keep on top of how the class and make sure your child is getting what she needs academically and socially.

My daughter was in a multigrade classroom at Mills Primary School for 2 years and at our local elementary for 1 year. At Mills she was a 3rd grader and then a 4th grader (1 of 2) in a 2-3-4 class. At our public school, she was a 5th grader in a 4-5 split. I thought the multigraded classrooms were great, and I also think she would have benefited from a K-1 classroom in 1st grade, although our public school didn't have one.

The advantages:

1) Able to work at her skill level. Where she was above class level, the teachers gave her the resources to work independently. When she needed extra help, there were other class mates in the same situation.

2) Friendships at all age levels. In 4th grade, she avoided the competitive stuff that developed among the 3rd grade girls by playing with 2nd graders--girls and boys. In 5th grade, she had friends among both 4th and 5th grade girls (and one or two boys). The multigraded classroom at our public school seemed to be insulated from much of the more sophisticated and troubling social scene that developed in the other fifth grade classrooms.

3) Opportunity to be the best at something, if you are one of the older ones, and to take a role assisting younger classmates.

4) (Especially at the public school) opportunity for small group time. At our school, the 4th and 5th graders had different science and music curricula, so during those periods, the teacher had only half the students.

If your daughter loves the classroom and seems happy, I wouldn't worry about her falling behind, but of course monitor her progress!

I have not had the same personal experience, but I did have an interesting conversation with my stepmother this weekend, who is teaching 2nd grade this year in Oakland. Apparently, almost any class in elementary school can actually be considered K-5 because of the amazingly wide range of development among the kids in any one class. The relationship between K & 1 then has got to be awfully close, and there's no guarantee at all that a real 1st grade would be that much different. (And so many Ks start at well over 6 by now, it's incredible. It's possible that your daughter's class is older Ks & younger 1sts. Just a guess.) I'm not a big fan of split classes either, & I don't think that most people are (including the teachers). However, I suggest that the relationship between your daughter & the teacher may be far more important to her ability to learn this year than the precise curriculum. (My mother pulled me from just about every elementary class at the beginning of each year because of some perceived imperfection of the teacher, and I ended up with horrendously terrible experiences every time. This leads me to believe that leaving well enough alone could work just as well, probably better.) And I suspect that the curriculum is designed to be quite flexible so that everyone is learning. Developmental education is a big deal right now, & I think it makes sense - i.e., take every child as s/he comes, and teach them according to their abilities. My son, already a fluent reader, just began K in Albany, which has no GATE classes, & I really appreciate that. All kids are good at different things at different times, which makes learning together, meaning learning from each other, a really important concept. Many of the kids in his class excel at other things (writing, drawing, taking turns, patience, math, not hogging the center of attention...) and he will presumably/hopefully be learning from them. To ease your mind, I would go ahead and ask the teacher (trying hard to forget how understandably upset you are for the moment) what her plans are for the year. It's very fair to ask what is a 1st grade curriculum, and how will that be incorporated into this split class? You can always slip her a note & ask her to call you at her convenience. One last thought - another thing I learned from teachers I know - good parenting is worth 100 teachers. If you stay involved in your daughter's education, making her life with you interesting & varied, she will be learning all the time. Teachers can't be held responsible for the entire education of any child, but it's incredible how many parents simply leave it up to them. (And blame them later...) Finally, let's all not forget that only a couple of years ago our kids would have been in a class of 32! Hurrah for that change, anyway!

In response to K-1 split care, we too experienced this with our first child. We were concerned at first, hen it dawned on me, the kindergartners are only half day, that meant that my child would have a hugely reduced class size. With only 9 first graders, the teacher should be able to cover amble ground in those afternoon hours alone with them. And as it turned out for us, the first graders helped the kindergartners which in turn improved their own skills. Of course, the kinder. crowd was much improved in their assessments by year end too.

A split grade is definitely a challenge, but if you feel the teacher is a good one I would say that is an overriding factor. If either of you have any free time, offer to assist the teacher whenever you can. THis may be a way to give the ks and 1s separate time to work on material for their own grade level. Even if you aren't available school hours, you may be able to help her prepare materials; preparing for two grade levels can be taxing. Another factor to consider is whether the ks leave earlier. If so, this has the benefit of giving the first graders time with the teacher in an even smaller group. A footnote: there were k/1s before class reduction too. If you continue to have concerns about k/1 splits as the year goes on, I would urge you to express your concerns to the school board, and be as specific as possible about why it is of particular concern at this grade level.

My daughter (now in 3rd grade) was in a mixed grade class for both 1st grade (K-1) and 2nd grade (1-2).

She had a brilliant Kindergarten teacher but still had some problems both academically and emotionally. She never spoke in circle time and really struggled with number concepts. This Kindergarten teacher was assigned to teach a mixed grade K-1 class the next year (due to class size reduction). She was able to handpick both the K and Grade 1 students for the class. It was balanced in everyway possible. No students were in the class whose parents had strong objections. She gave me all the reasons why she thought it wood be good for my daughter to be in her K-1 class. It wasn't a completely easy decision as somewhere underneath it felt like I was being told my daughter was a failure.

It turned out to be a break-through year for my daughter. She blossomed, developed leadership skills, and began to think of herself as an an artist. The teacher clearly taught a differentiated curriculum. Also, the Kindergarten students left at 1pm so the 9 1st graders had an entire hour with the teacher. My daughter still struggled with arithmetic so this teacher thought she would benefit from being in a 1-2 class (with some of the same children.) Given how well she had done in the K-1 class, we readily agreed.

Our second mixed grade class was not as wonderful. The 1-2 teacher had never taught grade 2 before (and grade 1 for only 3 years). Most families in the class, both grades, were unhappy the whole year. I think the teacher was unhappy, too. It was never clear what was being taught or how it was differentiated by grade. My daughter enjoyed the year (the teacher was nice and the class did lots of fun things) and was given at or above grade level marks on the report card. However, on the SAT 9 she scored VERY low on arithmetic (even factoring for all the other problems with the SAT-9). I decided she was graded more on effort and cooperation than actual performance.

I work in the Graduate School of Education and one of the Professors I work for has a child assigned to a 4/5 class this year. He spoke with colleagues and did a literature search and found there is little to no published research on mixed grade classes. His colleagues could really only offer annecdotal information -- which is all I can offer.

It was a mixed experience. I now think that a mixed grade class can be beneficial in the early grades as it can be a good alternative to retention but only with very carefully chosen teachers and students. The question that really can't be answered is whether the progress we saw in 1st grade was due to a mixed grade class or to another year with the same brilliant teacher I tend to think it was the latter. I doubt that I would agree to a mixed grade class for 3rd, 4th or 5th grades.

I am an elemenatary school teacher and have taught split grade classes for about 9 years-- about five years of 3rd-5th and the last four years of k-1, k-2 or 1st-2nd (this year). i purposely teach split classes because i think they are developmentally more appropriate and there are so many benefits. i do think however, that sometimes split classes are formed for the wrong reasons (to fill slots in a class) and that sometimes teachers without the desire or expertise are asked to teach split classes. in these cases, splits can be a negative experience for the students. i am so in favor of splits that i i have too much to say to write. if you haven't already, find out more about the split, the reasons for it, and the teacher's and school's philosophies before jumping to any conclusions. incidentally, the majority of people who are teaching split grade classes because of a strong belief in their benefits will refer to them as mulit-age programs. more and more teachers at my current school and elsewhere are requesting multi age classes. since my son was born i have been job sharing and i'm sure my partner teacher would also be happy to talk with you. i'd be happy to talk to you, please email your phone # if you'd like to talk. susan