"Looping" For Everyone?

At a conference last weekend the former NYC testing chief said that he and his team were often asked to come up with explanations for why test scores had gone up in a particular grade or kind of school or subject area and that it wasn't always clear whether the reasons they produced were in fact causal in any real way.  "If we don't come up with a reason, it looks like we don't know what we're doing," he said.  So I'm wondering whether the Sun Times' focus on looping at Chopin is for real or just a possibility -- and wondering whether anyone thinks looping is an effective or realistic thing for other schools to try.  There's a roundup of research on looping at Chicago Magazine (Teacher Looping in Chicago and Beyond) that boils it down to this:  "In short, looping means trading some familiarity with subject matter for familiarity with students. The literature is thin, but there are suggestions it's a worthwhile trade."  What do you think?  Great idea ... or grasping at straws?

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  • I doubt it's a magic bullet. I would imagine you would also have to clone the principal of Chopin and have made her staff choices through the years.

    But I think it has possibilities as an approach. Among the advantages I see are:

    1. the teacher gets to know the students, their learning styles, disabilities, interests in the first year and then gets to use that information through the next two rather than having a teacher a year have to do this. This should improve classroom management a lot, as well as differentiated instruction.

    2. teachers are not tempted to pass on a student who has clearly not mastered the material to avoid teaching him/her again. It might be interesting to see what the retention rate is at Chopin.

    I'm not sure how important subject mastery is to K-8 graders, I don't believe the state requires teachers to have degrees in primary school subjects, I thought that was just required for high school, where it is more important.

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    I'd love to be able to try looping. It seems like teachers spend the first quarter just figuring out the kids. Knowing their strengths and weakness, and being able to work with them over 2-3 years intensively would be amazing. You'd be able to build on what you did over the previous few years, knowing that you all have exactly the same background, and a shared classroom language - the need to reteach past material would be reduced, because the teacher would know exactly what the kids had already done, and how to remind them of what they'd previously learned. You wouldn't have to spend the first two months of each year teaching routines, you could just get started right away (after a refresher). You'd be able to assign summer work very easily.

    You'd also really be able to see value-added. If you want to see if a teacher is any good, keep the same kids with the teacher for a couple of years and see how much progress they make.

    On the flip side, if a teacher isn't as good, and kids are stuck with him/her for 2 or 3 years, that can put them seriously behind. It wouldn't even had to be that the teacher isn't very good - just simply that the teacher and certain students don't mesh well - the teacher's style doesn't fit with the student's, or there are personality conflicts. There are always a few students we wouldn't want for 2 or 3 years.

  • I looped with students many times in my career. Most classes I kept for 2 years, but a few I had for 3 years. I loved it and the kids liked it as well. I will admit that a few times I did change out one or two students because either they were not a good fit with the group or they had major behavior issues and I had done my time with them. Some of the groups that I worked with were grouped homogenously. I looped with kids who were well below grade level and other groups who were definitely above grade level as well as heterogenous groups of students. It did make things easier as far as classroom management and structure. The kids know the expectations and rules when they walk through the door the second year. I loved that I knew exactly what I had taught the year before, and after looking at assessments, what I needed to hit harder and what needed just a quick review before moving on to the new curriculum. It also helped build a sense of community among the students and parents. My students all made pretty impressive gains the 2nd or 3rd year. I am still in contact with many of the students that I taught in the classes that I looped with in the middle or upper grades.

    I think that this approach might not be for everyone. I always asked to loop with my students, I wasn't forced to. (I had some classes that the thought of doing another year with them could send chills up my spince!) Some teachers thought I was crazy, but others liked the idea and started doing it also.

  • It's nice that you had the option to 'change out' one or two students; most teachers do not have this opportunity… this makes all the difference - looping can work well when teachers have input…you are very fortunate as a many principals talk a good collaborative and 'professional learning community' game on the way in and then play a different hand once the contract has been signed. For many students and teachers, looping can be a catastrophe. Another wrench in the spokes can be a Chief Area Officer. Many of them have PHD's but didn't quite understand the data analysis class.

  • "Looping" is a special education technique that is well established; in theory a student with a disability in a self contained setting in Illinois could have the same teacher for three school years. Needless to say students placed in self-contained or instructional special education classrooms for the majority of the school day are significantly academically behind.

    There is very little statistical evidence that once placed in a self-contained setting the learning of these students is in anyway accelerated, whether their identifying label is severe learning disability, emotional disturbance, or autism. There is no compelling evidence that placement of disabled students in a looped self-contained setting is the critical factor in student academic or social success. The actual classroom environment and quality of instruction have more impact than placement per se on the success of students with disabilities.

    One short article on this issue I have seen can be downloaded at http://futureofchildren.org/publications/journals/article/index.xml?journalid=57&articleid=341&sectionid=2289

    This article discusses many studies of students with disabilities in both inclusive and self contained settings many of which are looped and concludes in terms of academic achievement there is no big advantage to either setting on average for students with more significant disabilities but not profound disabilities, with the very clear exception of deaf students who show advantage in self contained settings. Another literature review that can be read at http://www.spedlawyers.com/outcomes_research.htm looks at articles that see self-contained largely looped settings as being less academically effective for students with disabilities.

    I would suggest to teachers that they consider another factor before thinking how positive looping can be for students and that is the new 2010 PERA law that has mandated major changes in the way teachers will be evaluated. Those evaluations could eventually be tied to pay increases if the proponents of merit pay get their way. If a major part of teachers evaluations are based on value added academic gains for the students they are teaching, what happens if the grouping of students a teacher is assigned is particularly difficult and you have these students for several years. What are the implications for your evaluations?

    Conversely what if a favored teacher gets assigned more skilled students looped for several years will their evaluations be reflective of the school as a whole.

    As with most things looping is not a simple issue.

    Rod Estvan

  • from @sethlavin's weekly email:

    "What nobody mentions is consistent 3-year looping requires staff longevity. CCSR says the typical CPS school loses 50% of teachers every 5 years. Maybe the difference at Chopin isn’t looping but that teachers stay there long enough to loop? [If we had good retention data we could test this by isolating schools with best retention and seeing if they outperform. I don’t have that data, unfortunately.]"

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