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Ability Grouping: Helpful or Harmful?

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Presentation on theme: "Ability Grouping: Helpful or Harmful?"— 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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