The best way to create balanced classes with data

The Process

Towards the end of every school year, we go through something we call the Placement Process.  This is where we attempt to take student data collected from the current school year and use it to create classes for the next school year. It all sounds simple enough, however, there are multiple layers to this process of placing over 1800 students across 92 classes.

For us, this process starts in February of each year.  We work with our counseling team and administration to determine the data we will be collecting and how it will be collected.  We also make decisions about the timeline.  Once this has been decided, our data & logistics team (me included) develops the templates and workflow for teacher input.

I’m sure other schools have a similar scenario of collecting lots and lots of data.  We have classroom teachers collecting academic data, counselors collecting behavioral and relationship data, and learning support teachers input their data as well.  This is combined with the demographic data we already have on file.

Information for the New School Year

One of the biggest challenges we have had over the past years is just how to collect data from different people across multiple systems.  We have gone through many iterations.  Although it is not perfect, we have been able to refine our process enough to allow for the data to come in clean, and free from user error.

We then created a system that combines all of our data in one place.  This data is then pushed back out to teachers in a format that allows them to quickly see key data points about students.  From there, they proceed to group students based on predefined criteria.  This is where it gets tricky.

placement process

The Timeline

Starting in February, our leadership team, counseling team, and data & logistics team meet together to determine the workflow and timeline for data collection and input.  It typically looks something like this:

placement process

Of course, there are many smaller details that go into the decision-making process for class placement.  This is just a general overview of the timeline process involved in our particular situation.

The Data

There are lots and lots of software programs already out there for creating classes. It would be great if we could just pull a program off of the shelf and use it for class placement. However, we find that our system is so complex, that we have yet to find a program that suits our needs.  Because of this, we must create our own system in-house.

First of all, we have demographic data from our student information system (SIS) that we use to inform teachers about students.  This data is usually information such as:

  • Student name
  • Student ID number
  • Birthdate
  • Citizenship
  • Parent Contact information
  • Medical information
  • World Language Choice
placement process

Teacher Input

Classroom teachers are asked to provide academic data for math, reading, and writing.  We just ask teachers for a general level of how students have performed in order to give the next year’s teacher an idea of how a student is doing academically.  

Our leveling system places students as Secure, Progressing, or Concern.  A similar system I have seen in other schools would be Proficient, Approaching, or Not Yet. In addition to the academic data, we also ask teachers to identify families that have high needs.  This gives the next year teacher a heads up about which families might need some extra support.

We have the policy to try and place students with at least one other student from the previous year. Classroom teachers also have input into how these groups are formed. We then also collect data from our counselors.  The data from counselors are usually limited to behavior issues or social-emotional wellbeing.

Learning Support Input

Learning Support services also provide us with information that we share with teachers.  Here is a general list of the data we collect:

  • English as an additional language (EAL)
  • Speech & Language support
  • Social Communication support
  • Tier 2 and Tier 3 academic support


All of our students also take a daily world language class.  As students move up in grade levels, more and more classes are created to accommodate the different levels.  Because there are only so many world language teachers, creating these classes is very complex.

Deciding What is Most Important

This would be great if we could just throw all the student names into a bag and randomly place students.  However, there are so many considerations to keep in mind.  Deciding which considerations carry the most weight is often up for debate each year.  We continue to experiment and refine this process.  

Here are some of the areas for consideration when deciding where to start with creating new classes:

balanced classes


  1. The Schedule
    1. Because of the size of our school and the limited number of specialist and world language teachers, we have a schedule that divides our special subjects into two blocks, A and B. One half of a grade level will go to World Language while the other half will attend either PE, Art, or Music, class.  The blocks will then switch allowing each student to attend both World Language and PE, Art or Music each day.
    2. We also have a three-day rotation in our schedule.  This allows classes to rotate every third day for either PE, Art, or Music class.
  2. World Language
    1. Each student takes a level of either Spanish or Chinese
    2. Some students with high academic needs are except
    3. There are a limited number of levels that can be created due to the limited number of teachers
  3. Academic & Behavior Needs
    1. Special groupings for EAL (English as an additional language)
    2. Balance is taken into consideration for speech and language needs
    3. Balance is taken into consideration for behavior needs
    4. Balance is taken into consideration for academic needs
  4. Demographics
    1. Balance is taken into consideration for males and females
    2. Twins and triplets are placed in separate classes
    3. Faculty children are evenly distributed when possible

Making the Decision

Because we are limited by so many different parameters, it is hard to decide what is the most essential factor to take into consideration first.  Historically, friendship and behavior needs were given priority when making new classes. However, this created a number of issues down the road.

For this year, we decided to factor in the items that were beyond anyone’s control.  We needed to look at scheduling and place groups of students on either an A side or a B side schedule.  We then used that to help inform World Language classes.  

EAL was a new layer added. Within EAL, there are three groups of students.  The students requiring the most support are level A.  These students must be grouped together in the same class or the same small group of classes in order to allow for proper language support.  Therefore, once A Side and B Side classes were determined, this was the next level in the decision-making process.

Having these two layers, A side/B side and EAL groupings, reduced the amount of wiggle room for counselors to place students.  At the same time, the limitations also made placing students more straightforward.

Wrapping Up and Moving On

balanced classes

Getting the perfect class balance seems nearly impossible.  There are so many factors that need to be taken into account.  Even once classes seem perfect, a student might withdraw from the school and new students come in nearly every day.  

It is hard to predict what issues might come up, but our counselors do their best job with the information they have.  They do really care about the students, families, and teachers.  The counselors and administrators try their best to create balanced classes that are in the best interest of the students.

So, how about your school?  What do you consider when creating classes for the following school year?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

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