The disadvantages of mixed age groups

In the days of the one-room school, grouping students into age groups was traditional. According to the National Middle School Association, the current system based on age and grade level emerged during the Industrial Revolution in the interest of efficiency and tighter regulation. Schools have reverted to a mixed age group to provide more educational opportunities for students and to address issues of downsizing and declining student enrollment.

Summary of this practical sheet

1 Requirements for the teacher
2 Meet curriculum standards
3 Wide range of skill levels
4 Risk of misuse
Requirements for the teacher
A mixed-age class includes students with a greater range of abilities than a single-class class. Teachers need specialized training in instructional strategies and curriculum to teach effectively. Most textbooks are not suitable for a mixed age group due to their grade-based content. Therefore, teachers need to develop materials that meet the diverse needs of students. In cases where clustering is introduced to save money, teachers may also face increasing class sizes and planning requirements for multiple grades.

Meet curriculum standards
Curriculum standards in many states are broken down by grade level. These standards form the basis of standardized tests. Teaching in multigrade classrooms may not adequately meet all learning objectives for each grade level. Students can master all of the objectives by the time they advance to the next level, if the curriculum is planned carefully, but not in the same order as their peers in one-classroom environments. This is a particular challenge in subjects which depend on sequential instruction, such as mathematics.

Wide range of skill levels
A wide range of academic skills in the classroom makes it difficult to plan for instruction at the classroom level. Some students may be ready for multiplication while others work on multi-digit subtraction. Ability varies from class to class, but may be greater in a mixed age group. Scoring can be another challenge in multi-age classrooms because it is not possible or fair to keep all students to the same grading standards, so that multiple assessment systems can be used.

Risk of misuse
There are schools that systematically use multi-age or multi-grade groupings, for the cognitive and social benefits they offer. However, the majority of schools that use mixed age groups do so out of necessity, according to a study by Dr Chris Berry of UK schools. When a mixed age group is undertaken to reduce costs or to cope with declining enrollment, it is less likely that teachers will be adequately prepared and supported in this type of education.