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IES Grant

Title: How Should We Organize Primary Schooling? Grade Span, School Size and Student Academic Achievement
Center: NCER Year: 2004
Principal Investigator: Stiefel, Leanna Awardee: New York University
Program: Improving Education Systems      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years Award Amount: $487,910
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305E040096

Even though there is significant variation in the organization of schools in terms of overall school size and grade span, little is known about how different ways of organizing schools impact students' academic achievement. Obviously practical considerations at the local level often influence decisions about what grade levels schools serve, but it is also true that future policy and school construction decisions could benefit from knowledge about the effect of school organization on student academic achievement in general, or on particular groups of students. The purpose of this project is to analyze existing data to investigate what relationships might exist between the organization of primary schools--including school size, grade span (the number of grades and particular grades included), and classroom configurations (the number of classrooms per grade and school, size of classes, and composition of classes)-and the academic achievement of the students who attend them. In this study, primary schools are defined as those serving some combination of grades between first and eighth.

This research involves analyses of a database of a large urban school district. The database contains information on more than a million students in first through eighth grades per year over a seven-year period (1995-96 through 2001-02), including extensive data at the individual, classroom, and school levels. The primary focus of this research will be on analyses involving cohorts of third, fourth, and fifth graders followed longitudinally. Statistical modeling techniques will be used to assess whether school organization characteristics, including school size, grade span, or the number of classrooms, and class size at particular grades are related to changes in students' math and reading achievement, as assessed through standardized tests administered annually in third through eighth grades. The large sample size will also allow these analyses to include assessments of whether relationships between school organization characteristics and academic achievement vary depending upon selected student characteristics, including gender, special education status, eligibility for free or reduced price lunch, race/ethnicity, home language, English proficiency, and country of birth. Because the database includes longitudinal information on students as long as they remain within the school system, student progress over time can be tracked and associated with school organization characteristics. The overall goal of this study is to provide new information on school organization characteristics, particularly grade span-a factor that has been largely overlooked in the research literature-and the associations between these characteristics and student academic outcomes.


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Rubenstein, R., Schwartz, A.E., Stiefel, L., and Zabel, J. (2009). Spending, Size, and Grade Span in K–8 Schools. Education Finance and Policy, 4 (1): 60–88.

Schwartz, A., Stiefel, L., Rubenstein, R., and Zabel, J. (2011). The Path Not Taken: How Does School Organization Affect Eighth-Grade Achievement?. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 33 (3): 293–317.

** This project was submitted to and funded under Education Policy, Finance, and Systems in FY 2004.