Mixed-age primary classrooms confirmed

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At a planning meeting attended by 27 teachers and parents on April 2, Socorro Consolidated Schools Superintendent Randall Earwood confirmed that the district will implement some form of an ungraded multi-age program for kindergartners through second graders this coming school year, at least at Parkview Elementary School. Details about the program will be discussed at the April 28 regular school board meeting.
“The program is going to happen,” he said.
Total-inclusion special education students will be included in the classes, which are capped at 20 students each, but not children pulled out for services, he said at the planning meeting. Parents will be given the choice of allowing their students to participate. He said some parents have already expressed interest, especially those whose children have been involved in multi-age classrooms before.
The governor’s push to require students to achieve reading proficiency by third grade strongly motivated Earwood to consider the multi-age classroom model for younger children who need extra help to meet that goal. New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez has been pushing the legislature to pass a law to retain third-graders who can’t demonstrate reading proficiency.
“Look at the governor’s bill to retain third graders,” he said. “If she is re-elected, she is not going to give up on this bill, and we will be forced to (retain them) as a district.”
He said he opposes retention, especially for older students.
The number of multi-age classes and selection criteria for the students involved have not been determined yet, pending funding and parent interest, Earwood said. The program will be called Socorro Primary Academic Readiness for K-2 or SPARK-2. Kindergartners, first and second graders will be taught together in a single classroom in flexible groups and at their own pace using “developmentally appropriate practices.” Two teachers will teach two classes of twenty students each; they will share one educational assistant.
Socorro is modeling its multi-age primary program after Las Cruces Public Schools’ Joint Ungraded Multi-Age Primary (JUMP) program, except that here, students will be recruited from the general population, not just the lowest performing 10 percent, he said.
The district will hire Dr. Sandra Stone from Northern Arizona University to provide participating staff with a week of intensive training in teaching multi-age classrooms. She also provided training for the Las Cruces JUMP staff. Unlike LCPS, Socorro will not participate in the Turnaround Initiative through the University of Virginia, which involves two years of intensive training for JUMP school principals. Instead, Socorro SPARK-2 staff will meet weekly to discuss student data and plan collaboratively, and monthly with Las Cruces JUMP staffers for problem-solving sessions.
State statute requires districts to staff classes of 15 or more kindergartners with a full-time educational assistant as well as a certified teacher, but because fewer kindergartners are typically enrolled in a single multi-age class, Las Cruces Public Schools have assigned one EA to be shared between every two JUMP classes.
“Some of our classrooms have five kindergartners, and maybe nine first graders and eight second graders, not always a perfect 20,” said Kathy Adams, the Las Cruces program’s instructional specialist. “We don’t have 15 kinders in one classroom. Some of them (the teachers) pull (kindergartners) together from both classrooms with an EA for separate instruction.”
The Las Cruces multi-age program does not accept second-language learners nor any child with an Individualized Educational Plan, which excludes gifted and other special education students.
“We do have bottom students academically, so we don’t have gifted students in these classrooms. We didn’t target high performers,” she said. “Our classrooms are engaging. The teachers do a lot of small-group and individual instruction while students are working at centers. All teachers get together and figure out how to make those low areas better.”