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Ability Grouping: Helpful or Harmful? Mary Ann Swiatek, Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist

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Presentation on theme: "Ability Grouping: Helpful or Harmful? Mary Ann Swiatek, Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist"— Presentation transcript:

1 Ability Grouping: Helpful or Harmful? Mary Ann Swiatek, Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist

2 Definitions  Ability grouping: Placing students in learning groups with others of similar aptitude; can vary by subject; can be flexible over time  Tracking: Assignment of students to one group for all subjects, based on a measure of general ability (e.g., IQ)

3 The Arguments  For: Helps teachers focus the level of the presentation  Against:  Reduces expectations of lower- ability students  Discriminates against minority students  Promotes inequity

4 The Evidence: Meta-analyses  Quantitative summaries of research results  General steps:  Stipulate methodological criteria a study must meet to be included  Locate as many qualifying studies as possible  Quantify the results of the studies in terms of effect sizes

5 The Evidence: Meta-analyses  Effect size:  A common metric allowing comparison of results across studies  Quantifies magnitude of results in standard deviation units  Range: to (approximately)

6 The Evidence: Meta-analyses  Classification:  Below 0.2: Negligible  0.2 to 0.5: Small  0.5 to 0.8: Medium  Above 0.8: Large

7 The Evidence: Meta-analyses  Problems with the evidence  Some meta-analyses use only studies that randomly assign students to groups  Some meta-analyses discount findings if curriculum is modified for different groups

8 The Results: Gifted Students  Gifted students achieve better in ability groups  In elementary school:  28 studies of achievement test scores: Average ES =.19 (.49 in 9 studies of programs designed for G&T,.07 in 19 studies of broad programs)

9 The Results: Gifted Students  In high school:  51 studies with “measured outcomes” had average ES =.10 (.33 in the 14 studies of classes designed for G&T students,.02 in 33 studies of broad programs)

10 The Results: Gifted Students  Elementary and high school together:  78 studies of achievement test scores  Average ES =.15  For honors classes (N = 25), ES =.33  For “XYZ grouping” ES =.12 for high ability students

11 The Results: Gifted Students  23 studies of homogeneous vs. heterogeneous classrooms  Standardized achievement tests:  ES = 0.4 for science, social studies, and total  ES <0.25 for math, reading, and writing  ES = 0.4 favoring heterogeneous classes for languages

12 The Results: Gifted Students  Bigger effects for teacher-made tests  All favored homogeneous classes  ES = 1.0 for math and science  “Large” ES for English and social studies

13 The Results: Low-Ability Students  Low-ability students’ academic achievement in ability groups is equal to or better than in heterogeneous settings.  Effect sizes are negligible to small (-0.02 to 0.29).

14 The Results: Low-Ability Students  In high school:  4 studies with “measurable outcomes:” Average ES “near zero” for programs designed for academically deficient students

15 The Results: Low-Ability Students  In elementary and high school together:  For remedial programs (N = 4), ES =.14  In XYZ grouping (N = 39), ES was “virtually zero”

16 The Results: Across Ability Groups  Elementary school:  Effects near zero for “compre- hensive ability grouping”  14 studies ( ) of “Joplin plan” grouping in reading: ES =.45  8 studies of within-class grouping for math: ES =.32

17 The Results: Across Ability Groups  High School  29 studies of tracking: No effect

18 The Results: Cooperative Groups  In middle school:  High achieving students achieve more in hetero- geneous cooperative groups than in individual learning?  …but more in homogeneous than heterogeneous cooperative groups?

19 The Results: Ability Grouping vs. Tracking  Remember definitions  Ability grouping is associated with increased performance; tracking is not

20 The Results: Curriculum Modification  Effectiveness of ability grouping corresponds to the extent to which curriculum is modified to meet the needs of the group

21 The Results: Social/Emotional Adjustment  Often cannot be subject to meta-analysis  Many studies do not include these variables  Those that do are not consistent in what variables are included or how they are measured

22 The Results: Social/Emotional Adjustment  Most meta-analyses find negligible effects of grouping  In elementary school:  9 studies of “self-esteem (apparently global)  Average ES =.06  No separate data for gifted students (probably due to small N)

23 The Results: Social/Emotional Adjustment  In high school:  15 studies of “self-concept”  Average ES =.01  No separate data on gifted students  8 studies of attitudes toward subject matter: ES =.37  11 studies of attitudes toward school: Average ES =.09

24 The Results: Social/Emotional Adjustment  In elementary and high school together:  24 studies of “self-esteem”  Average ES “near zero”  Honors classes (N = 6) ES “trivial”  XYZ programs: ESs negligible  Remedial programs (N = 3): ES =.33

25 The Results: Social/Emotional Adjustment  Subset (not clear how many) of 23 studies of homogeneous vs. heterogeneous classrooms  ES = 0.09 for self-concept  ES = for creativity  “Positive effect” (ES not specified) for attitude toward school  ES = -.46 for attitude toward peers

26 So, In General…  Gifted students achieve better in ability groups when curriculum is modified for them  Low-ability students achieve about the same with or without grouping  Ability grouping for gifted students is supported by research; tracking is not

27 So, In General…  Homogeneous cooperative groups may be more effective than heterogeneous ones.  Grouping typically is found to have no effect on social/emotional adjustment

28 References  Goldring, E. B. (1990). Assessing the status of information on classroom organizational frameworks for gifted students. Journal of Educational Research, 83(6),  Kulik, C-L. C. & Kulik, J. A. (1982). Effects of ability grouping on secondary school students: A meta- analysis of evaluation findings. American Educational Research Journal, 19(3),

29 References  Kulik, C-L. C. & Kulik, J. A. (1984). Effects of ability grouping on elementary school pupils: A meta-analysis. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED )

30 References  Kulik, C-L. C. (1985, August). Effects of inter-class ability grouping on achievement and self-esteem. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Los Angeles, CA. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED )

31 References  Neber, H., Finsterwald, M., & Urban, N. (2001). Cooperative learning with gifted and high-achieving students: A review and meta-analysis of 12 studies. High Ability Studies, 12(2),  Slavin, R. E. (1987). Ability grouping and student achievement in elementary schools: A best-evidence synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 57(3),

32 References  Slavin, R. E. (1990). Achievement effects of ability grouping in secondary schools: A best- evidence synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 60(3),


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