Opinion Column

Split classes in schools not making the grade for concerned parents

By Bianca Bujan

When I first discovered that both of my school-aged children were to be on the older end of split-grade classes for the new school year, I felt divided.

Not only was I concerned that a split class meant that my children would be receiving half of the attention they needed from their teachers in order to succeed, but I was worried that the placement with their younger peers was a direct reflection of their level of maturity and academic abilities -- and my kids shared these concerns.

While split classes have been commonplace since the earliest days of schooling, there seems to be a significant increase in the practice in recent years. My oldest, who has just entered Grade 5, has joined her peers in a divide across five split classes, and my middle child is experiencing a similar setup, with four split classes devised to accommodate his Grade 2 classmates.

Many parents have soured to the increased number of split classes, sharing worries of students falling behind, and confusion over why so many splits have been enforced.

Gabbi Morrow, a Vancouver-based elementary school teacher who has been teaching predominantly split classes for her nearly 20-year teaching career, says that split class allocations are less about skill level and maturity, and more about finding organizational balance. “Splits are very common when needing to spread out students with designations, or balancing student behaviours,” she explains.

Morrow will be teaching a Grade 6/7 split class this year, and on ensuring her senior students are properly prepared for high school, she explains, “It can be a juggle for the teacher in certain subjects, so I platoon with another teacher so that she teaches one of the grades and I teach the other.”

On worrying about split classes from a parent’s perspective, Morrow shares, “I have never worried about having my own girls in split classes because I know what it’s like to teach a split. I would worry more about their teacher -- whether or not they run a solid program and if they have good behaviour management skills -- regardless of split or straight grade classrooms.”

Research shows that split classes do not negatively impact academic success, and can positively affect students by enhancing non-cognitive learning skills, increasing leadership skills, and developing organizational and problem-solving skills in kids.

In a story recently shared by CTV News, Richard Messina -- principal of Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study Laboratory School at OISE -- states, “Many of the issues parents are concerned about -- a gap in knowledge or in stimulation -- exist in single-cohort classes as well.” He goes on to note that “in every classroom, there is a developmental range in knowledge, in skill development, social-emotional development, and in some areas of the curriculum, the change from one grade to the other is small."

When it comes to split classes, it’s not worth the worry. Studies show that split classes will not impact the academic success of your child, and the divide often means more balanced classrooms. While it may not always be the ideal setup, parents need to support the decision, not stand divided.

Bianca Bujan is a mom of three, writer, editor, and marketing consultant. Find her on Twitter and Instagram. Comments: bitsofbee@yahoo.ca.