Ability grouping - American EducationA controversial method of grouping children in classes, courses of study or schools according to any of a variety of abilities, as measured by tests, subjective observations or both. Students may be grouped by any of the following: I.Q., academic performance or academic potential; special talents or gifts in any of a wide variety of arts, crafts or vocational skills; athletic or physical ability; or degree of mental, emotional or physical disability or handicap. Some groups of children may thus begin the school year at the appropriate grade level for their age, others one-half year ahead or behind in between-class groupings.
The broad argument in favor of ability grouping is that it allows student groups to progress at a pace appropriate to their level of skills. Faster students are not held back and slower students are not confused or humiliated by the pace of more advanced students. The broad argument against ability grouping is that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. A wide range of studies have demonstrated that teachers of low-ability classes have lower expectations for their students and, therefore, demand less and teach them less. Similarly, teachers in highability classes have higher expectations, work their students harder and cover more material during the academic year.
Students, in turn, are almost always aware of the significance of ability grouping and respond according to teacher and school expectations for their group.
(See also Advanced Placement Program; homogeneous and heterogeneous groupings; TRACKING.)