Abstract: Looping is the practice in which a teacher instructs the same group of students for at least two school years, following them from one grade level to the next. Once a "loop" of two or more years is completed, the teacher may start a new loop teaching a new group of students. This evaluation study of the practice of looping in a large urban school system was intended to explore its effect on student instructional outcomes, attendance, and retention rates, as well as to assess principals' and teachers' reactions to looping. The results indicated that, with respect to academic achievement, the Looping Sample outperformed their counterparts in the Matching Sample. Looping had a positive effect on student attendance and students in the Looping Sample had a significantly greater chance of being promoted to the next grade level. Principals and teachers were in high agreement that looping had a positive effect on student learning in their schools.
Looping: An Empirical Evaluation
Looping is the practice in which a teacher instructs the same group of students for at least two school years, following them from one grade level to the next. Once a "loop" of two or more years is completed, the teacher may start a new loop teaching a new group of students. The practice of looping has been described under various names, including teacher rotation, family-style learning, student-teacher progression, and multiyear instruction.
Looping has been employed in education for some time. RudolfSteiner founded the Waldorf Schools in Germany in the early 1900s on the notion that students would benefit from a lasting relationship with a teacher. In WaldorfSchools, teachers remained with their students during grades one through eight. This practice continues today in the Waldorf Schools that have expanded to many countries around the world. Currently, in Germany, students and teachers generally stay together in grades one through four (Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory at Brown University, 1997). Looping is also practiced in other countries, including Israel, Sweden, and Japan. In these countries, looping is used by many schools in elementary grades. Modified versions of multi-year teacher-student relationships are in place in secondary grades as well (Grant et al. as cited in Little and Little, 2001). Preschools in Italy successfully use a three-year teacher-students assignment model (Palestis, 1994).
In the United States, Deborah Meier, a well-known New York City educator and author, began using looping in 1974. She reasoned that teachers and students needed to become well-acquainted with one another in order to achieve necessary levels of communication that would support learning. Meier considers looping important in providing teachers and students with an opportunity to get to know each other very well (Goldberg, 1991). Deborah Jacoby, another looping practitioner and supporter, describes the time saved on the assessment of skills, increased ability to utilize the children's known strengths and talents in a style consistent over two years, and trusting relationships built with students and parents as some advantages of looping (Jacoby, 1994).
The literature on looping reports many benefits of this practice. Looping allows teachers to save time at the beginning of the second year of the loop by making unnecessary the usual transitional period typically spent on getting acquainted with new students as well as setting classroom rules, expectations, and standards. The time saved is virtually identical to gaining an extra month of teaching/learning time during the second year of the loop (Burke, 1996; Black, 2000).
Moreover, research indicates that looping gives children more time to build relationships essential to learning and aids in the development of social skills (Checkley, 1995), reduces anxiety experienced by students when they go from one grade level to the next (Grant & Johnson, 1995), and improves student confidence and parent-teacher relationships (Little & Dacus, 1999). Teachers in looping classes develop a closer relationship with students' parents (Rasmussen, 1998) and the practice of looping positively affects parents' attitudes toward the educational environment (Nichols & Nichols, 2002). There is evidence that looping may serve to improve overall elementary school climate (Black, 2000).
Concomitantly, the literature on looping indicates some potential disadvantages of looping. If the teacher is not familiar with the curriculum of the second year of the loop, the valuable instructional time may be lost. There can be a mismatch between teaching style and a child's learning style. Going forward with this mismatch for more than one school year is bad for both the teacher and the student. With looping, a student may have to be taught by an instructor who is not very strong in a particular subject area for more than one year (Vann, 1997). Others who have studied looping suggest that some of these drawbacks of looping may prove to be advantages. Chapman (1999) states that the problems concerning teacher/student mismatch or weak teachers should be addressed by a principal in any case--not just in looping situation. Looping may encourage principals to act more strongly to address these problems.
The findings concerning benefits of looping mostly reflect its social advantages for students. There appears to be a paucity of recent empirical studies targeting the academic effects of looping, especially its effects on student academic achievement. The present study aims to address the academic effects of looping.
Within a large urban school system in the state of Florida, 26 elementary schools used looping in the 1999-2000 school year. In these schools, looping was implemented in a variety of ways. In certain schools, only gifted students or students in the Advanced Academic Placement program participated in looping, while in others, students in regular classes took part in it. In some schools, only one or two classes participated in looping, whereas in others, all classes in particular grade levels took part in it. In addition, looping patterns were organized differently among schools. In certain schools, the looping occurred in first and second grades, and then in third and fourth grades, while in some other schools it was implemented in the second and third grades only. This evaluation of the practice of looping was intended to explore its effect on student instructional outcomes, attendance, and retention rates, as well as to assess principals' and teachers' reactions to looping.
This study intended to explore the academic effects of looping regarding general education students (as opposed to gifted or advanced placement students) who completed a two-year "loop." All 26 elementary schools that used looping during the 1999-2000 school year were considered. Of the 26 schools, 11 were in the first year of the loop or had only gifted or Advanced Academic Placement...