Is There a Benefit to Upper Elementary Departmentalization? A District Level Analysis




classroom structure, departmentalization, achievement


The shift from the traditional self-contained classroom to the departmentalized classroom structure in upper-elementary classrooms is increasing as the pressure to maximize student outcomes is higher than ever for public schools. Teachers prefer departmentalization but findings as to its benefits for students are mixed. This study considers the relationship between classroom structure and student achievement and whether the relationship varies by student socio-economic status. Using fourth grade data from one school district in Florida, we use Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regression and logistic regression to examine the relationship between departmentalization and three measures of student achievement based on the Florida Standards Assessment. The findings indicate a negative relationship between all three measures of student achievement and classroom structure with some variation by student socio-economic status.


Aslan, Y. (2016). The effect of cross-curricular instruction on reading comprehension. Universal Journal of Educational Research, 4(8), 1797–1801.

Baroody, A. E. (2017). Exploring the contribution of classroom formats on teaching effectiveness and achievement in upper elementary classrooms. School Effectiveness & School Improvement, 28(2), 314–335.

Barseghian, T. (2011). Three trends that will shape the future of curriculum. Mind Shift: How We Will Learn.

Carnoy, M., & Garcia, E. (2017). Five key trends in U.S. student performance: Progress by Blacks and Hispanics, the takeoff of Asians, the stall of non-English speakers, the persistence of socioeconomic gaps, and the damaging effect of highly segregated schools. Economic Policy Institute

Delviscio, J. J., & Muffs, M. L. (2007). Regrouping students: To lessen accountability pressures on teachers, a school pilots a looping and departmentalization model in the elementary grades. School Administrator, 64(8), 26.

Faaz, M., & Khan, Z. N. (2017). A study of academic achievement of upper primary school students in relation to their socio-economic status. Asian Journal of Research in Social Sciences and Humanities, 7(6), 121–127.

Gerretson, H., Bosnick, J., & Schofield, K. (2008). A case for content specialists as the elementary classroom teacher. The Teacher Educator, 43(4), 302–314.

Gewertz, C. (2014, Feb. 19). “Platooning” on the rise in early grades. Education Week, 33(21).

Kent, K. P. (2010). Self-contained versus departmentalized school organization and the impact on fourth and fifth grade student achievement in reading and mathematics as determined by the Kentucky core content test (Order No. 896956115) [Doctoral Dissertation, University of Louisville]. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.

Kim, R. (2020). Under the law: Gary B., Espinoza, and the fight for school funding. Phi Delta Kappan, 102(1), 48–50.

Koch, L. S. (n.d.). The effects of departmentalized and self-contained classrooms on fifth-grade students' achievement in science on the Georgia criterion referenced competency test [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Capella University.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2010). Just what is critical race theory and what's it doing in a nice field like education? International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 11(1) ,7–24.

Labaree, D. F. (2018). Public schools for private gain. Phi Delta Kappan, 100(3), 8–13.

Liu, F. (2011). Pre-service teachers' perceptions of departmentalization of elementary schools. International Journal of Whole Schooling, 7(1), 40–52.

Lobdell, L. O., & van Ness, W. J. (1963). The self-contained classroom in the elementary school. The Elementary School Journal, 63(4), 212–217.

Markworth, K., Brobst, J., Ohana, C., & Parker, R. (2016). Elementary content specialization: Models, affordances, and constraints. International Journal of STEM Education, 3(1), 1–19.

McCarthy, C. J. (2019). Teacher stress: Balancing demands and resources. Phi Delta Kappan, 101(3), 8–14.

McGrath, C. J., & Rust, J. O. (2002). Academic achievement and between-class transition time for self-contained and departmental upper-elementary classes. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 29(1), 40–43.

Minott, R. (2016). Elementary teacher's experiences of departmentalization and its impact on student affect [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. William Howard Taft University.

Mulvahill, E. (2018). Should elementary schools departmentalize? We look at the pros and cons.

Nelson, K. (2014). A study comparing fifth grade student achievement in mathematics in departmentalized and non-departmentalized settings. [Doctoral Dissertations, Liberty University]. Scholars Crossing.

Neuman, S., Kaefer, T., & Pinkham, A. (n.d.). Building background knowledge.

Otto, H. J., & Sanders, D. C. (1964). Elementary school organization and administration. (4th ed.). Meredith.

Parker, A., Rakes, L., & Arndt, K. (2017). Departmentalized, self-contained, or somewhere in between: understanding elementary grade-level organizational decision-making. The Educational Forum, 81(3), 236–255.

Parker, A. K., & Rakes, L. (2020). Teacher candidates’ perceptions of grade Level organization and its influence on their professional development. Current Issues in Education, 21(1), 1–18.

Quinn, D. M., Cooc, N., McIntyre, J., & Gomez, C. J. (2016). Seasonal Dynamics of Academic Achievement nequality by socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity. Educational Researcher, 45(8), 443–453.

Strohl, A., Schmertzing, L. C., Schmertzing, R., & Hsiao, E. (2014). Comparison of self-contained and departmentalized elementary teacher perceptions of classroom structure and job satisfaction. Journal of Studies in Education, 4(1), 109–127.

Vanlaar, G., Reardon, S., & Kalogrides, D. (2014). How does transition from elementary to middle school affect the racial achievement gap? Center for Educational Policy Analysis.

Webel, C., Conner, K. A., Sheffel, C., Tarr, J. E., & Austin, C. (2017). Elementary mathematics specialists in “departmentalized” teaching assignments: Affordances and constraints. Journal of Mathematical Behavior, 46, 196–214.

Yearwood, Connie B. (2011). Effects of departmentalized versus traditional settings on fifth graders' math and reading achievement. [Doctoral Dissertations and Projects, Liberty University].

Zhang, F., Jiang, Y., Ming, H., Ren, Y., Wang, L., & Huang, S. (2020). Family socio-economic status and children’s academic achievement: The different roles of parental academic involvement and subjective social mobility. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 90(3), 561–579.




How to Cite

Wyss, A., & Preston, C. (2022). Is There a Benefit to Upper Elementary Departmentalization? A District Level Analysis. Impacting Education: Journal on Transforming Professional Practice, 7(4), 16–25.