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Spring 2013

RESEARCH BRIEF Looping Outcomes  Often  Prosper  in   K-­‐12  Education:  Implications  for   Educators  of  At-­‐Risk  students

Kyle Kester

University of North Carolina at Charlotte Introduc)on

Improving the graduation rate, helping at-risk students, and lessening the achievement gap are included in the general goals of many educational institutions today. An at-risk student has at least one personal or familial risk factor. Personal risk factors are most easily recognizable and can include disability, delinquency, truancy, retention, and lack of English-speaking skills (Kominski, Jamieson & Martinez, 2011; Slavin & Madden, 1999). Living in a non-traditional family, having an under-educated parent, and surviving with a low socio-economic status comprise the familial indicators for being at-risk (Kominski, Jamieson & Martinez, 2011; Slavin & Madden, 1999). Figure 1 (below) illustrates that approximately half of all students enrolled in K-12 education are at-risk (Kominski, Jamieson & Martinez, 2011). Many educators agree that some level of educational reform is necessary in order to meet the diverse needs of students who are at-risk for dropping out of high school. The ideas on how to meet these objectives are varied; however, one possibility that is often overlooked is the looping of students and teachers.

Figure 1

Source: (Kominski,  Jamieson  &  Mar5nez,  2011).

The term “looping” is used to describe the educational grouping that takes place when a teacher moves with his or her students to the next grade level or course, possibly for several years (Burke, 1996; Gaustad, 1998). This process (also called multi-year grouping, continuous learning, or multi-year learning),


while somewhat innovative in the United States, is relatively common in other countries (Burke, 1996). As studies show that consistency is one of the foremost factors atrisk students are lacking (Kominski, Jamieson & Martinez, 2011; Slavin & Madden, 1999), the stability that looping provides is a key benefit to these types of programs.   Subsequently, this organizational structure promotes both meaningful relationships on a myriad of levels and effective, authentic learning (Thompson, 2009), and school systems have found this “simple idea is having profound effects on their students” (Grant, 1996). Initially, the first benefit to be realized is that of time. Looping allows students and teachers to jump right into the new curriculum, making gains sooner rather than later. “Teachers and students in looping classes need not start from scratch every fall, learning new sets of names and personalities, establishing classroom rules and expectations” (Gaustad, 1998, p. 2), and other housekeeping-type chores are reduced. In other words, the first day of the second year of school is like coming back from a long break instead of starting an entirely new school year (Thompson, 2009). Since researchers estimate almost a month is spent on introductory

activities and material (Burke, 1996), the increase in time spent on authentic learning is a clear benefit for all students involved. Furthermore, students are less likely to be retained since they have more time to learn basic skills in a comfortable environment (Thompson, 2009).

Whereas what at-risk students may be missing is community, this model is effective in helping to fill that gap. Spending several years or semesters together “enables teachers to accumulate more comprehensive, in-depth knowledge of students’ personalities, learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses” (Gaustad, 1998, p. 2); in this manner, they are able to m o r e e ff e c t i v e l y d e s i g n a p p r o p r i a t e , individualized instruction for each student. Research also indicates that long-term relationships resulting from looping provides students with an intimate classroom environment that encourages thinking, risktaking and classroom involvement (Lindsay, 2008). Additionally, Pecanic (2003) asserts “looping classrooms generally provide a strong community or family atmosphere that is especially beneficial for shy students, students who do not adapt well to new or changing situations, and for students who have unstable home lives” (p. 13). This community between students enables them to find their place within the group, increasing self-esteem, which, in turn, is likely to manifest as improved academic achievement (Lindsay, 2008). Evidence indicates that looping makes positive gains when used with appropriately-placed atrisk students. Laura Brown (2011) implemented a phenomenological case study to determine if looping is effective in meeting the diverse needs of at-risk (specifically learning disabled) students. This study utilized qualitative information (interviews, questionnaires, student artifacts, observations) from five students and a coding system to discern the usefulness of the strategy. Overall academic growth was positive in both measured areas, reading and mathematics. (See Table 1.)

“Many educators agree that some level of educational reform is necessary in order to meet the diverse needs of students who are atrisk for dropping out of high school.”


RESEARCH BREF Spring 2013 LOOP cont.

Table 1:  Looped  LD  students’  growth  in  reading  and  math

3rd grade average level

4th grade average level

Average Growth









Note: Values  are  rounded,  which  should  account  for  any  discrepancies.

Additionally, parents and the teacher reported improved social functioning and greater self-esteem for the looped students. Noted limitations of Brown’s (2011) study include lack of a control group, small sample group, and limited information about previous years’ growth for these students, all of which would have been helpful in noting trends. However, Brown’s (2011) study echoes what other research suggests: academic growth, social skills, and emotional health of at-risk students all stand to benefit by participating in a looping program. Recommendations for Schools: • Consider implementing looping: • What factors will you consider when choosing students (attendance, performance, teacher recommendations, etc.)?

• How long will your loop last? • What will you consider when choosing teacher(s) to loop? (Consider asking for volunteers. Make sure it is someone comfortable teaching the multiple grade levels involved.) • Will you allow parents and students to opt out of the loop at in subsequent years? Under what circumstances? • What policies will you implement for students who move in/move out regarding your looping class? Will it be closed or capped? • Will you assign support personnel to the class? An EC teacher? An assistant?

student needs? By whom? How will the data be used? • What other strategies will you implement to support at risk students? • Mentors? • Team-building activities? • Remediation time? • How will you involve parents and families in your school? • Special events? • Surveys?

• What data will be collected to determine if your loop is meeting

References Brown, L.C. (2011). Experiences of looping for students with disabilities: A phenomenological case study. Liberty University. Retrieved from %26rct%3Dj%26q%3Dlooping%2520case%2520study%2520educatio%26source%3Dweb%26cd%3D3%26ved%3D0CEkQFjAC%26url%3Dhttp%253A%252F %26usg %3DAFQjCNEcuc_RabhkyB7YXKxWwvfUNWqEXA#search=%22looping%20case%20study%20educatio%22 Burke, Daniel L. (1996). Looping: Adding Time, Strengthening Relationships. ERIC Digest. Retrieved from Gaustad, J. (1998). Implementing looping. ERIC digest, 123. Retrieved from wires. net/cms/lib/IL01001571/Centricity/Domain/202/Looping_Eric_Digest.pdf Grant, J. (1996). The Looping Handbook: Teachers and Students Progressing Together. Peterborough, NJ: Crystal Springs Books. Kominski, R., Jamieson, A., & Martinez, G. (2011). At-Risk conditions of US School-Age children. US Census Bureau. Retrieved from Laboratory at Brown University. (1997). Looping: Supporting student learning through long-term relationships. Themes in Education. Retrieved from Lindsay, L.A., Irving, M.A., Tanner, T. & Underdue, D. (2008). In the loop: An examination of the effectiveness of looping for African American students. Curriculum and Research,1(4). Retrieved from Pecanic, M. (2003). The experience and effects of looping in the elementary classroom. Retrieved from Looping_in_Elementary_School.pdf Sladin, R.E. & Madden, M.A. (1989). What works for students at risk: A research synthesis. Educational Leadership. Retrieved from Thompson, N. L., Franz, D. P., & Miller, N. (2009). Research summary: Looping. Retrieved from Default.aspx

Suggested Cita,on:  Kester,  K.  (2013).    Looping  outcomes  o>en  prosper  in  K-­‐12  educa,on:  Implica,ons  for  educators  of  at-­‐risk  students.    (EDCI  Research  Brief,  April  2013)    Urban  Educa,on  Collabora,ve.   University  of  North  Carolina  at  CharloOe:  CharloOe,  NC.   Submission  Guidelines:  The  Urban  Educa.on  Research  and  Policy  accepts  manuscripts  for  review  and  publica.on  considera.on  for  the  Research  Brief  series.  Submi?ed  manuscripts  should  not   exceed  1,000  words  and  must  conform  to  the  guidelines  outlined  in  the  6th  Edi.on  of  the  Publica0on  Manual  of  the  American  Psychological  Associa0on.  All  manuscripts  will  undergo  a  blind  review  and   refereed  process.  The  review  process  takes  approximately  3-­‐4  weeks.  Manuscripts  can  be  submi?ed  for  review  via  e-­‐mail  to  Dr.  Chance  Lewis  ( Correspondence  regarding  this  report  may  be  sent  via  e-­‐mail  to:  


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