“They were, ‘We want to loop! We want to do a loop here,’ he said.
Paul Morris, principal of Bierbaum, said he “blew up the idea” at first, but with enough perseverance from the kids he began to take it more seriously. He and Osborne decided to try it, and both are glad they did.
There is evidence that students benefit when they are with the same teacher for more than one school year.
A new study from the Annenberg Institute at Brown University adds a growing body of evidence in support of looping, focusing on the positive effects on students’ performance both academically and behaviorally.
Published in early June, the study analyzed the results of a seven-year test in the state of Tennessee compiled by the Tennessee Education Research Alliance. This includes the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program for grades 3-8 and subject-specific testing for grades 9-11.
The average child’s test score, who has repeatedly experienced student-teacher matches, is 50th to 51st percentile in both math and English. The probability of suspension is reduced by 10%.
Lei Wadenoza, author of the study and senior policy analyst at the SUNY Rockefeller Institute of Government, said the scale of the impact could be “fairly modest, if not small.” But the ethical relevance of looping goes beyond just its dimensions. “It’s about scalability,” says Matthew Kraft, co-author, assistant professor of education and economics at Brown University.
“Here, financial costs are lower, especially if you can help teachers take on the task of learning content and educational strategies across grades and subjects,” Kraft says.
Some groups of students have seen even greater benefits. Overall, the impact of a larger percentage of repeated student-teacher matches in class was greater. According to the department, higher-performing students and white girls had the highest increase in test scores, with a decrease in attendance gains and a decrease in discipline being the highest for low-performing students and male students of color. Conclusions based on population have a higher margin of error than the overall figures given in the form of small samples, but it is noteworthy to provide ample evidence of inconsistent discipline for black and brown students in school.
“It gives at least some evidence that having a relationship with a teacher, being with a teacher a second time, can prevent some of that extra discipline,” Wadenoza said.
The study not only looked at intentional looping, which occurred with 2% of students, but also in all cases of teacher-student match repetition, such as a teacher who changed the grade level or who taught multiple classes across the grade level. It was much more common, affecting 44% of students.
This means that there is plenty of room for repetitive student-teacher matching and looping growth effects, the author says.
“If schools implement looping in a more objective and intentional way, we think that if something happens, our results could underestimate the potential,” Kraft said.
The work of Kraft and Wedenoza confirms patterns seen in past studies of primary and secondary school data in North Carolina and Indiana, but it also extends to new areas, analyzing high school data shows that looping does not only apply to younger students.
“It’s not a magic bullet, but it seems to have a positive effect,” Wedenoja said. “I think it says something bigger about the importance of the relationship between teachers and students.”
Osborne said he saw the effects of looping on the first day of fifth grade and the benefits were more than just a tight community.
“They knew exactly what they were going into,” he said. “It simply came to our notice then. We didn’t have to spend time testing this or that level because I knew exactly where they left off. “
And although not closely controlled, the results are parallel to the Annenberg study.
More than 80% of Osborn’s classes have met their distinct “one-year growth” standards set by the school’s benchmark testing platform, Morris says. This is compared to 54% of students who achieved this number across the entire building.
More than anything else, Morris said he believes the driving force behind this academic success was the strong relationship that has developed between students and teachers over the past two years.
“That simple idea of wanting to do good for this person, which they clearly see as being invested in them honestly – I don’t think there’s a stronger motivation than that,” he said. “No one ever learns anything from someone he doesn’t like.”
Neither Osborn nor Morris pretended to be perfect. Morris equated it to a long family car ride – you could get annoyed with each other after a while, he said.
“It was like a family and you have days that aren’t always great,” Osborne said.
“But some of my kids who may have had quite a big behavioral problem in the past, didn’t really have too many problems as we went through these years,” he added. “Knowing how to work with them and the things that make them the most successful, I think it benefits them.”
Evidence of the power of relationships is also not new to academia, and Kraft says it’s important to remember that looping is a way to build those relationships.
“We have a lot of potential to restructure existing adults who contribute to the education system in a way that will increase sustainable interaction,” he said. “Whether it’s a teacher, a tutor, a school leader, a deputy commissioner, a bus driver … we don’t take advantage of what we have to offer to those adult students.”
If the trend is so positive, why do so few schools deliberately implement looping? The answers are varied, but academics and researchers in general have told Chuckbeat that it is not easy to change a system that has been in place for so long.
“Don’t underestimate inertia,” Wedenoja said. “It’s very easy to get things done as always.”
For teachers, the challenge of looping may be learning a new curriculum or working with students at a different stage of life. For parents and students, it may be that the teaching style or personality of a particular instructor does not seem appropriate to continue for another year. Other logistical challenges may include moving to a new classroom or building year after year or maintaining stability with high rates of teacher dropouts and declining student enrollment.
It’s something you can’t stress, Osborne said, but the benefits outweigh the challenges.
It was “the best experience of my career,” he said.
Currently, there are no plans to continue a looped classroom at Bierbaum. Two years after Covid, Morris said he and his staff were “just trying to get us to breathe”, but in the long run “I wouldn’t say we canceled it,” he added.
Meanwhile, Kraft and Wednoza encouraged policymakers and school administrators to start small.
“It’s saying, let’s think more creatively about the people we have, and how we’re using their passion and talent to support kids,” Kraft said.
For Osborn, the small step means building a relationship with his looping cohort even after he graduates fifth grade. The group already has plans to get together at the end of the summer. Osborne says they will share recent adventures and unravel “those middle school nerves.”