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Evaluation of Departmentalized Instruction in Elementary Schools

Contract Information

Current Status:

Implementation and data collection are underway.


September 2017 – September 2023



Contract Number:



Mathematica Policy Research
Public Impact
Social Policy Research Associates
Clowder Consulting


Finding creative ways to redeploy existing teachers in the classroom may yield academic benefits to students at little cost. One such strategy is departmentalized instruction, where each teacher specializes in teaching one subject to multiple classes of students instead of teaching all subjects to a single class of students (self-contained instruction). While nearly ubiquitous in secondary schools, departmentalization has only recently become more popular in upper elementary grades. This evaluation is examining the implementation and outcomes of teachers and students as they departmentalize in fourth and fifth grades. In doing so, it will generate valuable evidence on an improvement strategy that low-performing elementary schools identified under the Every Student Succeeds Act may consider adopting.

  • After two years of departmentalizing instruction, how do elementary teachers' and students' outcomes compare to those of similar teachers and students in self-contained schools?
  • How do schools structure departmentalization, and what challenges and benefits do principals and teachers perceive in switching from self-contained classrooms to departmentalization?

A total of 90 elementary schools in 12 districts across the country were initially recruited to participate in the study. All schools were using self-contained classrooms during the 2018–19 school year. Beginning with the 2019–20 school year, approximately half of these schools elected to switch to departmentalized instruction in fourth grade and fifth grade for up to two years, while the remaining schools continued with self-contained classrooms.

Data collection will include: principal interviews to learn how teacher assignments were made and how departmentalization was structured; a teacher survey to examine teachers' perceptions of and approaches to departmentalization; extant district data on teacher retention and on students' math and reading achievement, attendance, and disciplinary incidents. These data, combined with a quasi-experimental "matched comparisons" design, will allow the study team to describe the implementation of departmentalization and compare teacher and student outcomes between departmentalized schools and similar self-contained schools.

Key findings will be available after the study report is published.

The report for the study is expected in 2022 and will be announced on