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APRIL 27, 2016

TO:    All Teachers

RE:    Explanation of Multi-Grade/Combined Classes Announced in the Provincial Budget

In September 2016, there will be 135 classrooms in 70 schools and as many as 2,400 students in multi-grade classrooms in Newfoundland and Labrador that were never multi-graded before. Many of these multi-grade classrooms will be in urban areas, where most teachers have no experience or training in teaching in multi-grade classrooms.

Why Is This?
The Liberal Government has determined that when the number of students in a grade exceeds the class cap, that instead of allocating another teacher, the students over the cap in that grade will be combined with the leftover students in another grade (either the grade above or below).

Take a school with 38 Grade 4s and 38 Grade 5s. In September 2016, there will be one class of 29 Grade 4s; one class of 29 Grade 5s and one multi-grade combined class of 9 Grade 4s and 9 Grade 5s.

The teacher of the multi-grade Grade 4/5 classroom will be expected to teach all of the Grade 4 outcomes and all of the Grade 5 outcomes in the same timeframe in a multi-grade class as teachers teaching just Grade 4 outcomes or just Grade 5 outcomes to a single class. The NLTA believes this budget decision will result in lower student outcomes, not improved student outcomes.

What Will this Look Like for Students and Parents?
Using the example above, two Grade 4 students, Tom and Susan, who are next door neighbours, have been in the same class in the same school for four years. Both passed Grade 4 in June 2016. In September 2016, Susan might find herself in a class of 28 other Grade 5 peers, and Tom might find himself in a class of nine Grade 4s and eight other Grade 5s. No doubt Tom will be wondering what he did wrong to be back with Grade 4s. No doubt Tom’s parents will be wondering why their son was chosen to be multi-graded while Susan wasn’t.

How Will Students be Chosen for the Multi-grade Classes?
The NLTA has asked this question of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, and the answer given was that they don’t have a selection process but will leave it to the schools to determine. In other words, school principals will likely have to choose which students will be placed in the multi-grade class and which students will be placed in the single-grade class. No doubt this will put school administrators under pressure and in unnecessary conflict with parents who understandably will not want their children in multi-grade classrooms.

Will all or some special needs children be placed in the multi-grade classroom? We don’t know and apparently, neither does Government.

Will high-achieving Grade 5s be placed in a class with low-achieving Grade 4s, and be expected to achieve the Grade 5 outcomes with limited teacher assistance, and perhaps to assist the teacher with the Grade 4s? We don’t know and apparently, neither does Government.

Will More multi-grade Classrooms Improve Student Outcomes?
The answer is no. It is obviously more difficult for one teacher to teach all the outcomes of two grades in one class in the same amount of time than it is for one teacher to teach the outcomes of one grade in the same amount time. It will be difficult to meet the needs of students.

Multi-grading is not new. It exists in many of our smaller rural communities and, through the efforts of our excellent teachers, Newfoundland and Labrador students in small multi-grade classrooms have achieved success and lead productive lives. However, few of these parents or students would choose a multi-grade classroom over a single-grade class. It simply is a matter of necessity in a small school. The NLTA believes this decision will not improve student achievement and will be the cause of poor student outcomes.

Why is Government Taking a Risk With Children’s Education by Having More Multi-grade Classrooms?
Quite simply, the answer is to save money. Government has stated that they are trying to achieve efficiencies. This will occur by risking our students’ educational success.

Government has said that 20 percent of Canadian students are multi-graded. The NLTA does not believe this is true and will challenge the Government on this statistic. Government will say multi-grading does not have a negative impact on student outcomes and can have a positive impact. The NLTA will challenge this and ask if that is the case, why aren’t all classes multi-graded?

The creation of 135 multi-grade Grade 1-6 classes in 70 schools that have never been multi-graded before will cause disruption to students and parents this September. Requiring 135 teachers who have limited, if any, experience or training in the area of teaching multi-grade classrooms will be extremely challenging for those teachers.

No doubt there are many successful Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who were educated in multi-grade classrooms, and many current students are achieving success being educated in multi-grade classrooms. But, multi-grade classrooms are not preferable over single-grade classes. We have come a long way from the one-room school house of yesteryear. With this budget, we feel Government has taken education a step backwards.

Teachers will do their best to meet the needs of their students in every type of classroom. Teachers and the NLTA will work with parents to hold this Government accountable for student outcomes and to lobby for increased investment in our children’s education and future.

We ask teachers to contact their MHAs and express their disagreement with increasing the number of multi-grade classrooms in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Please click here for a list of MHAs.