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Study Questions Principals' Tendency to Split Up Twins in Kindergarten

School principals overwhelmingly believe that twins should be separated in kindergarten to promote each individual's independence as well as academic achievement, but such decisions can have a profoundly negative impact on children, new research asserts.

Moreover, such beliefs are opposite of those held by parents of twins, kindergarten teachers, and twins themselves, wrote Lynn Melby Gordon, a professor in the Department of Elementary Education at California State University, Northridge, who is both a mother to fraternal twin boys and a former kindergarten teacher.

Her report, entitled "Twins and Kindergarten Separation: Divergent Beliefs of Principals, Teachers, Parents and Twins," was published on January 27 in the journal Educational Policy and took into account the opinions of 131 principals, 54 kindergarten teachers, 201 parents of twins, and 112 twins working and living in "a large urban school district in the United States."

She questioned the respondants by mail between 2005 and 2007, asking them about their experiences and beliefs regarding the placement of twins in kindergarten classrooms.

Forty-five percent of elementary principals reported they "always" or "almost always" separated twins in kindergarten; 46 percent said they "sometimes" separated sets.

Moreover, 75 percent of principals thought that doing so would be traumatic at some level for their students—but they did so anyway, Gordon said.

Such decisions were made based on "educators' prejudice against multiples, erroneous concerns about twin psychopathology and unfounded beliefs about excessive dependence problems in twins," the researcher wrote.

In fact, "studies tend to show either no difference in the academic achievement of twins placed together versus apart or that academic achievement tends to be better when twins are placed together," the report stated.

"School separation trauma can sometimes be profound," Gordon added.

That said, Gordon noted that some twins should be separated, especially if they together have behavior that is disruptive to the class or one another, or even "need space," from one another.

Gordon said in an interview that the quieter of her own twin boys requested separation for just that later reason.

Among other findings in the study:

  • 81 percent of preschool and kindergarten twins want to stay together in kindergarten, but 58 percent of twins are separated into different classes in kindergarten.

  • 3 percent of all twins who are placed in separate classes are "very traumatized" by kindergarten separation, and an additional 17 percent are "somewhat traumatized," according to their parents.

  • Female identical twins were the most likely to report wanting to stay together in the same class in kindergarten.

  • Most parents favor joint placement of twins in kindergarten.

  • 95 percent of parents believe that they know their children best and believe that schools should try to honor their class placement requests for twins.

  • 90 percent of kindergarten teachers would not mind having a set of twins in their class. 

This information is especially important given the huge increase in multiple births in the United States, the researcher said.

The twin birthrate rose 76 percent from 1980 through 2009, from 18.9 per 1,000 births to 33.3, Gordon wrote.

Moreover, one in every 30 children is a twin and there is likely to be one half of a set in every American classroom, she added.

"Teachers," Gordon said, "have a 50- to 100-percent chance of having a twin in their class."

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