Nongraded schools teach children in multiage classrooms, instead of separating them into the traditional grade levels.
Nongraded schools have become increasingly popular in the 1990s, particularly among elementary school educators, though some school districts have applied
There are several reasons school districts use nongraded schools. Some school districts have low enrollment and can fill schools more efficiently if grade levels are combined. In some areas, teachers and administrators simply believe in the effectiveness of multiage classrooms. Several states, including Kentucky, Mississippi, and Oregon, have passed laws requiring multiage classrooms for at least certain levels—usually primary schools.
Though the long-term effects of nongraded schools on students have not been assessed, the majority of studies report that students generally excel in them. Children in multiage classrooms have been found to perform better academically than their peers in traditional schools. There is also a host of social advantages to the multiage approach. Classrooms using the unit approach to curriculum allow students to progress at their own rates. Underachievers may be more comfortable, because they suffer less stigma than in a traditional classroom. Gifted students are not held back by the learning rate of the rest of the class. Students learn to cooperate, and older or more advanced students may gain valuable leadership skills from helping other children. Younger or more immature children benefit from the role models they have in the older children, and teachers report fewer cliques and less bullying in multiage groups. Many teachers also like the rapport they develop with students they stay with for several years. Parents too have found they develop a stronger relationship with their children's teacher. According to some research, students who may have the most difficulty in a traditional school do better in a nongraded school. One study identifies boys, African Americans, underachievers, and students from poorer families as those likely to perform better and feel better about themselves in nongraded schools. These students score better on achievement tests than their peers, and the improvement is greater the longer they stay in a nongraded program.
Anderson, Robert H., and Barbara Nelson Pavan. Nongradedness: Helping It to Happen. Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Technomic Press, 1993.
Kasten, W. C, and B. K. Clarke. The Multiage Classroom. Ka tonah, New York: Richard C. Owen, 1993.