Flexible Grouping a Success at Ridge View Community School

Submitted by Jerry Kiesman, Principal of Ridge View Community School  in AOS 94

How successful has flexible grouping been at Ridge View Community School?

Preliminary results reported last spring from NWEA testing in the fall of 2017 and the winter of 2018 indicated that many students were doing better. Now, the results of  last year’s testing are in for 2017-18 first graders, and Principal Jerry Kiesman says the data is “amazing.” Not only are students generally doing significantly better flexible grouping, the gains have been across the board—for all students and all needs.

In a cohort of 17 first graders who were tested using the Fountas and Pinnell reading level chart, 15 students ended the year at or above grade level, and 13 of those 15 students received additional support, either through title or special ed supplemental instruction or co-taught environments.

“To have that many students performing at grade level is very unusual and shows how successful flexible grouping has been,” said Mr. Kiesman.

The performance of last year’s first graders on the NWEA tests was even more impressive. On the Literacy NWEAs, 25 of 49 first graders exceeded their expected yearly growth rate of 8 to l2 points, 19 met the expected yearly growth rate, and only 5 did not meet the target growth rate because of flexible grouping. “That’s unheard of,” Mr. Kiesman said.

On the Math NWEA’s, the performance was even better, with 47 of 51 first graders exceeding their yearly growth target of 8 to 12 points, and 4 students meeting the target. No students—zero—failed to meet the yearly growth target.

In the Literacy NWEAs, the average growth for first graders during the 2017-18 school year was 17 points, compared to the expected growth of 8 to 12 points. The average number of growth points on the Math NWEAS was 27.4 points—almost three times the expected growth.

Flexible grouping has replaced the traditional classroom arrangement in grades K-4 at Ridge View, starting last year.

Instead of requiring students to spend the entire day with the same teacher in the same classroom, a variety of “learning environments” are set up for literacy and math to meet students’ individual needs.

“We have multiple teachers in the same room, and multiple places, approaches, and events to educate all the students,” Mr. Kiesman said. “We try to meet individual students where they are, and if a student isn’t progressing in a particular environment, we’ll try another environment depending on the student’s needs.”

When students are assigned to the literacy and math environments, they may move down or up a grade, depending on the standards they’re working on. Or they may move to an environment where they can receive the emotional or social support they need.

Mr. Kiesman says the best thing about flexible grouping is that it seems to be having a positive impact on the entire student population.

“It’s been affecting the kids at both the and bottom of the scale, as well as those in the middle,” he said. “That’s pretty neat.”

When flexible grouping started last year, Mr. Kiesman had to secure permission from the parents of special education students, because of IEP requirements.

“I asked them to try flexible grouping for four weeks,” Mr. Kiesman said. “One parent demurred, saying the student didn’t like noise or big crowds. I said. ‘Let me try.’ After four weeks, I called and asked if the parent wanted the child to be taken out of flexible grouping. The parent replied, ‘No, I want to keep him there—he’s having fun.’”

Next year, Mr. Kiesman says he doesn’t expect the same level of growth that the first graders saw last year, but he thinks that test results will show that everybody is still growing.