Assessment in Multiage Classrooms


Two philosophical beliefs provide foundation to how assessment should be carried out and utilized in multiage educational programs.

  • Assessment is a part of a fully integrated whole to the school program.
  • Assessment best supports students when it is used to inform instruction rather than to simply evaluate students.

Multiage educators believe that students follow their own individual pace of learning IMG_5298and that each student’s pace is not always constant.  Children can at times learn quickly while at other times they will learn more slowly, similar to the physical growth spurts that occur during a student’s childhood.  This varied pace can also fluctuate between subject areas as well as with passions for various subjects or areas of learning.  While a student may be rapidly progressing in an area such as math during the first part of a school year, they may equally as likely show a relatively stagnate pace in reading comprehension during that same period of time, only to reverse this during a latter part of the year or during a subsequent year.  This is one of the reasons many progressive schools use a multiage structure* throughout their program, it more easily supports students as they go through these natural fluctuations in learning pace and passions.  Multiage educators further believe that the best way to support children, to best meet the students’ needs as they each follow their own academic growth spurts, is for assessment to be student- small group- and class-specific.  To do this schools must treat teachers as professionals and rely on them create and use meaningful assessment strategies and materials – all guided by comprehensive curriculum maps, benchmarks, and of course the students themselves.

Multiage educators also understand that the healthy progress of children is stronger when learning is based on success, as opposed to emphasizing shortcomings as in a deficiency model.  The later points out what is “wrong” while the former builds strength and a positive image that better supports overall forward progress.  This doesn’t mean that multiage educators don’t look at challenges and what the next academic hurtle will be, it just means that learning is celebrated as forward progress rather than over focussing on what is missing.  This is what communication with individual students is based on in a multiage program, assessment that celebrates personal progress and the next learning steps to be taken along their academic continuum.

When multiage teachers share with parents and guardians the individual progress of their children, they communicate that assessment is based on the criteria of the assignments given and the individual student’s own personal progress for each area.  This is often reflected through the shorthand of grades on progress reports which are augmented through conversation during parent/teacher conferences as well as during individual conversations throughout each school year.  Realizing that this doesn’t always meet the concerns of parents in regards to their child’s standing in relation to their age peers, multiage educators often include two or more age- or grade-specific measurements used specifically to inform parents of academic standing relative to standardized age norms; reading level and mathematics benchmarks are often the most appropriate. Each student’s reading level can be based on reliable metrics such as the Woods and Moe Analytical Reading Inventory or the leveled assessment materials from Fountas and Pinnell (  To inform parents of mathematical progress, achievement can be communicated via math benchmarks.  These benchmarks are standardized through foundational resources such as Washington State Mathematics Learning Standards or other state standards, and The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).  Both of these age-specific measurements should be communicated strictly to parents and guardians, not to the students themselves.

Preschool progress in a multiage program should be based on the same overall philosophy, but the manner of assessment should be more appropriately focussed on observational strategies as well as personal, social, and physical skill development.

Unfortunately the large standardized tests that are common in the U.S. compare students against standards created for specific ages. They are not supportive of multiage educational programs. These tests tend to be evaluative, high stakes in nature, are designed to be age-specific, are typically administered yearly, and the results often don’t get back to the teacher in time for instruction to be modified for individual students. In the long run they tend to inadvertently cause educators to “teach to the test,” just the opposite of teaching children based on their individual learning needs or style.

Assessment needs to support the partnership of students, teachers, and parents as they find ways to best support the growth of each child.

* An elementary multiage classroom purposefully combines students of multiple ages together, ensuring a range of ability and achievement that reflects a natural community, as opposed to the more contrived single-grade structure found at many schools.

Arranging Furnishings to Support a Multiage Class

Classroom Layout

Russell Yates

When I team taught in a 2nd/3rd grade multiage classroom, it consisted of two rooms that had a folding wall installed between them. The folding section was about 10 feet wide and allowed us to move freely between the “North Side” and the “South Side” of our classroom. It also allowed us to separate our room into two equal parts for when we needed to have instruction by the “half class.” It gave us even more flexibility in grouping and was a godsend when we had to separate the class for standardized testing.

Flexibility was the key. We constantly had students rearranging themselves in various groups throughout the day (green group, blue group, math groups, reading circles, spelling buddies, etc.). Because of this we found that tables worked the best with students keeping their supplies in their cubbies. We also had various areas that were designed for certain activities. The best examples of this were the whole group meeting area (north side), the reading area (north side), and the computer/reference area (south side).

When I stopped team-teaching, I set up my 3rd/4th/5th room similar to the way it was, to best support the flexibility needed for a variety of groupings. Because everything needed to fit into one room (half the space as before), I had to condense and eliminate some sections (I no longer had a separate reading area or group meeting area for instance). However, I was able to get a little more bookshelf space. Another benefit I was able to get for my students was added computers. As our school’s computers were updated, many teachers no longer wanted their older Macintosh computers. I “adopted” some of them and networked them to an older printer. I had the students use them mainly for word processing and keyboarding practice.

After moving to an independent school in which all classes were multiaged, I found that the same systems and structures I had set up in the previous classroom still worked, I just didn’t need as many tables, cubby spaces, or computers (now changed to wireless laptops) due to the smaller class sizes.


Map my old multiage classroom


 Map of the north side of my team-taught multiage classroom



Map of the south side of my team-taught multiage classroom

Appropriate Ability Grouping in Multiage Classrooms

This article is posted with permission of the author.

The Use of Ability Grouping in a Multi-age Classroom

by Janet Caudill Banks

Long term ability grouping should be discouraged in any class. Mixed-ability grouping should be encouraged whenever possible. Capitalizing on the wider range of developmental levels in a multi-age class, and grouping accordingly, is one of the major goals of multi-age instruction.

A number of research studies on heterogeneous grouping indicate that mixed-ability grouping is the most effective way to maximize student success. When students are in mixed-ability groups, teachers can make more use of the benefits of cooperative learning and peer tutoring, resulting in positive learning experiences for all children. As students interact with other students of different developmental levels, less able pupils become more excited about learning and make significant gains, as they have the help and encouragement of students from higher levels, as well as the exposure to the knowledge and work of those students. More able students also make significant gains as they assume leadership roles, and clarify their own thinking while explaining material to others.

These same research studies indicate that long-term, static, ability grouping affects children negatively. It does not encourage maximum development and it has been found to discourage less able students.

Grouping children by ability for short periods of time to meet specific instructional needs is appropriate. Children who have the same needs can be grouped for short periods of time for instruction, but when these needs are met the group should be disbanded. Another group can be put together based on another need that more than one individual has. In this way, grouping is flexible, not static. Individualized instruction does not mean teaching the same lesson over and over again to each child. Teachers need to recognize times that more than one child has similar needs, and group accordingly, just long enough to meet those needs.

Less able students, in particular, should never be left in ability groups for a long period of time. They need the spark, the knowledge, the motivation, the help, the encouragement, etc. from the more able students. Being in a low group, and labeled that way, can have a long term effect on self-esteem, as well as being detrimental to learning.

© CATS Publications, 1997

3-Three-3, Differentiating an Old Fashioned Math Worksheet

Math Girls

Math Girls

A great way to differentiate math when you are stuck with an old-fashioned math computation worksheet is to not require its completion.  Instead ask the students to simply choose the three easiest problems and the three most difficult problems from the worksheet to solve.  Be sure to ask them to explain why they found the first three to be the easiest and why the second three are the hardest for them.  It is also important to ask students to make up three additional problems that would fit with what is on the worksheet, but that are not included – and of course ask them to explain why they think they would fit.  This approach gives you a lot of information about each student’s mathematical thinking, their ability to solve the type of computations being focused on, and their understanding of the concepts surrounding the problems.

I found that having these questions and available workspace on a separate piece of paper was beneficial in keeping the students focused on what I was asking of them (some students still wanted to complete all of the computation problems and that was okay with me, as long as they completed the assignment first).  To do this I created the 3-Three-3 worksheet and found that I could use it in a great number of situations across the math strands that I was teaching.  If you would like to give it a try, I have included a link to a full-size copy of the worksheet in a pdf format.  Use the comment section to let me know how it works for you.

Independent Learning Projects

A collaborative independent learning project in the form of a puppet play being presented to the class.


In my intermediate multiage classroom when students finished their work in a couple of self-paced areas, they were eligible to do an independent learning project. Students loved doing these projects perhaps because they had so much choice in their creation. They decided on the topic they wished to learn about, the product they would produce, and the means of sharing what they’d learned. I did not grade any of these projects but I did support and encourage the students.

Below is a copy of my Independent Learning Contract. When students were ready and had an idea of something they would like to learn, they had a brief conference with me to discuss it. During that conference I helped them refine their idea and begin filling out the contract. They then took it home to discuss the project with their parents, bringing it back to me signed and with any changes. I would add my signature and give any assistance they needed in gathering materials and in getting started. After that they worked on their project independently at appropriate times during the day, both at home and at school. I checked on progress from time to time and when the project was complete we would set up a time for it to be shared with the rest of the class.


Independent Learning Contract

name: __________________ 
date: _______________

Before you begin working on your independent project, you will need to create a plan of what you want to learn about and how you want to show what you’ve learned. You will also need to share this plan with your parents and your teacher. This contract is a part of your project. In addition, it will help guide you in making your plan. Please use a pencil as you may wish to change some of your plan when you share it with your parents or teacher.

1. Questions related to a topic that you wish to learn more about. 




2. Possible resources you will need (may include places to visit, people to interview, 
books, computer databases, etc.). 




3. How will you show what you’ve learned? 




When will your work begin? __________

When do you think it will end?__________

When do you wish to present your finished project to the class? _________________ 



student signature

_________________ _________________ 
parent signature(s)

teacher signature


Students’ Daily Schedule

img_0921 When I team taught a 2nd and 3rd grade multiage class, my teaching partner and I realized how important it was for students to know where and when to be at certain places and for them to have a general idea of what they needed to have with them. To help with this every morning we had our entire class sit down and go through the day’s schedule. All of our students used the “Daily Schedule Form” to write down/fill in/check off which activities they would be participating in for that day. We found that this little piece of organization helped tremendously. Not only did the students know what to do and when, but they didn’t come to us at various times asking, “What do I do now?” Going through the day’s schedule and filling out the form took our class about 10 minutes each morning (of course at first, it took us between 20 minutes and half an hour).

At the end of the day students brought their schedule with them to a whole class meeting and they wrote a short reflection. Those reflections frequently began with, “One thing I liked doing today was…” or “Something I learned today was…” After about 5 to 10 minutes of quiet writing time students were randomly asked to share what they had written. It was a nice way to end the day.

When we had run out of time, students put the schedule with their belongings to take home that afternoon to share with their parents. In this way parents were able to get a lot of details about their child’s daily school life.

In my self-contained intermediate multiage classrooms I still found it to be important to have students know when and where they need to be at various times during the day. So for all the same reasons I had them fill out a very similar schedule.

Helping Students Stay Organized

Helping Students Stay Organized


My multiage students have always moved from one working group to another throughout the day. Frequently they also worked on individual tasks. Due to the flexibility this kind of movement requires, I chose to use tables throughout the classroom instead of student desks. Because students had no desk in which to keep their supplies, I converted a number of lower bookshelves into student cubbies. Before I was able to purchase plastic containers, the local hospital donated numerous dish pans that served as the main container for supplies such as crayons, pencils, scissors, and other small items.

Below the “Pink Tub,” as the students called them, were kept their 3-ring binders, spiral notebooks, and clipboards. This system worked very well. However, student cubbies did get a bit too messy from time to time just as desks tend to do. In response to this I created a hand drawn poster and had the students color it at the first of the year. Additionally I reminded them routinely that being organized would help them with their school work and that a clean cubby is part of being organized.

Another part of my system that has helped with students having the right stuff at the right time of the day has been the use of 3-ring binders. They carried these with them most of the day as it included nearly everything they needed, organized in various sections. The pocket or “Pee-Chee” type folders I had them bring at the first of school were turned inside-out and punched with a 3-hole punch. They were then labeled (mostly by subject) and used as pocket dividers in their binders. I also asked that students bring a pencil pouch to keep snapped into their binders. This helped them keep track of their pencils.