Split Grade Classroom: What Parents Need To Know to Be Prepared

You found out your student is in a split grade class or a combination classroom. This might be surprising, exciting or confusing for you as a parent. Your student also might be worried, excited, nervous, or upset. As an educator and a parent of a kid who just entered a split 4th/5th class, and also as the daughter of a parent who used to teach split-grade classes, I have thoughts of you to hopefully ease your mind and get you set up for a successful school year.

Finding Out Our Son is in a Split Class

When I first found out Rocco was going to be in a split classroom, I was concerned. I immediately called my mom, who is a retired elementary school teacher, and asked her if I should be worried. There is such a perceived stigma if kids are put in a split class, but I want to assure you that it’s actually a good thing! Rocco was originally put into a 4/5 split. But in week two of school, we were informed he was going to be moved to a 3/4 split. I was confused, but after speaking with the school, I found out that they simply didn’t have any more 5th graders to keep the split, but too many 4th graders, so they had to move to another class.

I went to our parents’ night with a lot of apprehensions. Also, I was concerned Rocco would get subpar education being paired with 3rd graders. However, the benefit of split classes are many – the biggest one being that children who are selected for split classrooms are hand-selected by their teachers. These are students who are intelligent, well-behaved, self-starters, natural leaders, and do not need a high level of teacher interaction to thrive on their own. If your child was selected to be in a split classroom, you should actually be quite proud.

What does a Split Grade Class mean?

So what is a split class or a combo class? Well, generally, half the class is one grade and half the class is the grade above or below the other class. My mom used to teach 2nd/3rd splits. My son is now in a 4th/5th split. Our school also has a 3rd/4th split this year.

Why do they need Combination Classrooms?

split grade class stacey freeman posh in progress
I actually talked to my son’s. new teacher about this, and it makes total sense. Split or combo classes happen due to teach and student numbers. If there aren’t enough teachers to cover a specific number of students in a particular grade but there are also extra students in the grade above or below, a split is the perfect solution to ensure the right student to teach coverage.

What Does a Split-Level Class Mean for Your Student?

I know what my initial thought was when I found out my son was in a 4th/5th split as a 4th grader. Most parents assume that means their kids are some of the brighter and better students. Although that is somewhat true, that’s not the entire story. And the opposite is true. I spoke with a parent who’s son was in the 3rd/4th split as a 4th grader and she was very concerned there was a stigma being placed on her son that he must be academically inferior to other kids. That is also not necessarily true. So read on to see why your child might have been put in a split level class regardless of whether they are the older or younger in the class.

If Your Child is in the Higher Grade of a Combination Class

split grade classroom
If your child is in the higher grade, it doesn’t mean they are academically inferior to other kids in the same grade. What it does for sure mean is that your child is well-behaved, works well in small groups, and is a great independent worker. It also means your child will not cause any behavioral disruptions in class. These are all really positive attributes that led your child to being selected to be in the split level class or combo class.

If Your Child is in the Lower Grade of a Split Classroom

If your child is one of the younger kids in the class, the same is true for them. They are highly cooperative, work well independently and will not cause behavioral issues in the classroom. Your child may be one of the higher achieving students in his or her grade, but intelligence alone does not make for a good fit for a combo class. It’s the social skills and independence that are even more important.

split grade classroom

Questions to Ask the Combination Class Teacher

When I spoke to my son’s teacher about her experience teaching in a combo class, she had nothing but rave reviews. My mom, who used to teach 2nd/3rd combo classes had the same reaction. She had nothing but the most positive things to say about the experience.

Both my mom and my son’s teacher told me that their split classrooms were their absolute favorite classrooms. Why? Well, although the teacher technically has to teach two different grade levels at the same time, she has exemplary students. These are studious, good kids that will not cause her behavioral issues. Believe it or not, a major part of elementary school teachers’ jobs is just to keep kids in check which distracts from their time to teach and educate.

My main concern was whether this would in any way negatively impact Rocco’s schooling, and she reassured me it wouldn’t. She told me his curriculum would be the same as if he was in any other 4th grade classroom. Although in her experience, these students do require extra enrichment.  They tend to be the kids who finish their work quickly.

Questions to Ask Your Student About the Split Grade Classroom

If you have any concerns, you could do weekly check-ins with your student to see how their classroom experience is. You can talk to them about the benefits of being in class with new kids. You can share your pride in their ability to be such effective independent workers and good students. If you’re wondering what the benefits might be, I personally always think its good for kids to try new things and be outside of their comfort zones. Although it may seem potentially nerve-racking or scary, it’s a great thing for kids to interact with kids who are different ages than them.

I hope this was helpful for you as you navigate what it might be like to be in a split-level or combo classroom. If you have any other questions or want to share your experience, please leave a comment below.

If you’re looking for other parenting stories, click here.



    As a parent I am in this situation as bad first school day surprise. My son is 4th grader in a 3 – 4 combo. You have mentioned only upsides which seems biased to me. What are the downsides?

    1. I think the downsides are really dependent on each school. My son’s only major complaint was having to recess with the 3rd graders so he didn’t get to see his other friends as much. I also think he was slightly less challenged academically this year being in a split class but the teacher reassured me he had the same coursework as any other 4th grader. I do think it’s more work for the teacher but that is why the kids in these classes tend to be the best behaved. So she can focus on teaching and not discipline.

  2. I am in the same position with my son from highly capable class being placed with lower grade HC. I am very worried as this is his last year in the elementary and he absolutely needs to be academically prepared for the next year move to middle school as they skip classes (he is supposed to take 8th grade math and ELA classes next year). I am sure this year will be a downfall for his academics… I think school should have prepared parents for this type of learning! They should have talked to parents before the school start and explain what benefits they see and assure us it won’t be a bad year for our kids. We are the taxpayers who pay for the school with our income and we should be at least aware what is going on in the school. Maybe we would move to another school if I knew this beforehand.

    1. I totally hear your frustration. The good news – this means your son is likely a leader, independent worker, and will be surrounded by other similar students (even at the lower grades) who do not struggle with social or emotional issues. Standard classrooms, teachers spend so much time on discipline. Children in split classes generally are the kids who do not cause any sort of classroom trouble which means there’s actually more teacher attention and time for learning.

      Now that my son finished his year in a split classroom (he’s in a standard 5th grade class), I can assure you that I don’t think the experience negatively impacted him in any way. He has continued to thrive academically and also socially. Being with the younger grade also helped him with patience, empathy and socializing with younger grades.

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