No Child Left Behind
Unfortunately, with the advent of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), teachers throughout the country began to feel great pressure to focus almost exclusively upon reading and mathematics instruction. Time devoted to outstanding methods like Buddies began to drop off sharply. In an effort to see if cross-age learning still improves academic achievement in the context of NCLB, State of California’s STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) scores were collected from the records of two elementary schools from two different school districts near San Francisco that the author has been unobtrusively monitoring for about 15 years. One of the schools serves an upper-middle-income population of Kindergarten through 4th grades. The other school serves a lower- middle-income population of Kindergarten through 5th grades. All or nearly all of the teachers in both schools had consistently engaged of their own volition in cross-age learning for over 10 years prior to NCLB, and the achievement test results in both schools had significantly increased and been maintained at higher levels after the initiation of cross-age learning and prior to NCLB. However, within two years after the advent of NCLB, teachers in both schools felt increasing pressure to focus more time on reading and math because of NCLB. As was the case with the amounts of time devoted to art and other enrichment efforts, some teachers decreased the frequency of their Buddies sessions and some stopped entirely.
The basic question was then asked of the STAR results: “Did the students of teachers who continued to use Buddies sessions frequently do as well academically as the students of teachers who used Buddies sessions less frequently or not at all?”
STAR tests were administered at the end of each school year to 2nd through 5th grades in both schools. The scores of students who were tested at both schools in both 2005 and 2006 were the subjects for this study, 209 students at the lower-middle-income school and 201 students at the upper- middle-income school, a total of 410 students who were in the 3rd through 5th grades in the Spring of 2006. STAR standard scores range from zero to 600. In the spring of 2006 on the English Language Arts (ELA) tests, results for the students in the lower-middle-income school averaged 341. The students from the upper-middle-income school averaged 399. The state-wide average for these grades was 341 in 2006, so both schools were doing well in comparison to their respective income groups.
The 2005 and 2006 scores of students whose teachers engaged in less than the average number of Buddies sessions for their school during the school year 2005-2006 were compared to those of teachers who engaged in more than the average number of Buddies sessions. It was first determined that there were no statistically-significant differences at either school in the ELA scores of the less and more frequent Buddies students on their Spring, 2005 standardized scores. So, the two comparison groups started the 2005-2006 school year on an approximately equal footing academically insofar as achievement test scores are concerned.
STAR standardized score changes from 2005 to 2006 were examined by means of analysis of variance (ANOV) and t-tests. At the .05 level of statistical significance, the students of teachers at the upper-middle-income school who engaged in more than the average number of Buddies sessions during the 2005-2006 school year scored an average of 17.6 points higher in ELA than those who did fewer sessions. And the students of teachers at the lower-middle-income school who engaged in more than the average number of Buddies sessions during the 2005-2006 school year scored an average of 23.2 points higher in ELA than those who did fewer sessions.
A recent survey of students and parents from one school in this study found that over 90 percent of the students want more Buddies sessions, and 97 percent of parents want Buddies continued, many parents making comments to the effect that Buddies builds character. Some parents commented that their children want to go to school on Buddies days even when they feel ill.
Thus, even in the midst of current pressures to narrow educational focus rather extremely, cross-age learning significantly improves academics. Teachers should not be hesitant to use cross-age learning in the midst of NCLB, particularly since it also simultaneously enhances character development, morale, and teamwork skills that are needed to succeed in the world.
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