Effects Of Homogenous Grouping Education Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

The term homogeneous refers to items or elements or units which are similar in nature and are in a group which essentially means that they posses the same type of basic qualities or properties. The antonym for the word homogeneous is heterogeneous. Therefore, when a group of items is referred to as homogenous then it means that the single items that make up the group have a number of similarities while a group that has items that differ in all sorts of properties is referred to as heterogeneous. These terms are not limited to items only but can also be used to describe a group of individuals by considering similarities and differences in some traits or features. When used in a learning environment, homogeneous groups refer to an organized group of students possessing comparable instructional levels placed together handling materials that are deemed fit to their specific level, this is usually determined through a series of assessments and the process of forming such groups is known as 'homogeneous grouping.'

The exercise of homogeneous grouping employs a model that generally puts students into groups with regard to ability or achievement as the variables for making a decision. At a higher level of student learning the practice is commonly practiced in mathematics, in which case students are taken through general, vocational, or college-preparatory courses in mathematics. A similar situation can also be experienced in schools that offer algebra at the eighth grade especially at the junior high school and middle levels (Oakes, 1985; Slavin, 1990). Tracking or grouping can also be done to students at the elementary school level, even though the grouping at this stage is done by measuring general ability or achievement and not on ability or achievement with regard to mathematics. A second case in point where homogeneous grouping is done for students is the small groups in classrooms where clusters are tagged on ability or achievement in that specific classroom. This practice has been customary for reading instruction more commonly at the elementary school level for a long time. The same organization is used by teachers for mathematics instruction.

The placing of students into high, medium, and low groups for mathematics instruction is not much practised at the middle, junior, or high school level where there is a tendency for students to do less work when placed in small groups (Slavin, 1990). The emergence of such practices was brought about by the prevalent belief that the difference in children's intellectual is so great that there is a need to teach students with different ability or achievement levels in a separate class or group (Oakes, 1986), yet many concerns have come up with regard to the long-term effect that practicing such groupings may cause.

Grouping of students can either take the form of 'ability grouping' or 'tracking' with a distinct difference existing between the two terms, however a lot of debates have been raised in line with these terms. The meaning of these terms have been observed to vary from one school to another, in this case ability grouping is defined as a situation where students are organized into groups in classes in reading instruction while tracking is described as the placing students into groups between classes, giving academic courses in subjects that reveal differences in the prior learning or ability of the students.

Tracking specifically has generated blistering debate with critics charging that it not only fails to assist any student, but that it also leads poor and minority students into low tracks and dooms a huge number of students to a poor education. It does not however lack defenders who have also stood firm in arguing that it students with high ability languish in classes with mixed ability. Conversely, some teachers are in favour of ability grouping suggesting that most students get disappointed when the whole class does not grasp a new idea at the same time in a heterogeneous grouping. The teachers argue that the low-end students pull down the high-end students, rather than the inverse taking place. The pace of the class goes down and it becomes necessary for a teacher to prepare double lesson plans for every period, one for the high-end students and another for the low-end students. At some point one teacher acknowledged the fact that ability grouping could be beneficial in certain areas such as mathematics but warned that it should not be practised all day in all academic areas. So as the debate continues, a common ground on tracking and ability grouping is hard to find, perhaps the most general conclusion between teachers handling this issue is that ability grouping is beneficial in some cases, but not in others, and that it is necessary to be flexible so that tracking of students is not done with no clear capability of moving from group to group.

Though ability grouping is widely employed by schools across the country, it is a very controversial subject. The controversy of ability grouping stems from the scarcity of evidence of how students in higher learning learn best. Do they learn best in homogeneous groups? Can students' educational needs be best served in groups of mixed abilities? These are the issues that need to be explored deeply in the recent studies.

There are a number of definitions that are important and need to be clarified. These definitions pertain to structural dimensions of ability grouping or tracking practice. These aspects are electivity, selectivity, inclusiveness and scope. Electivity is the extent to which students choose or are assigned to track positions. Students and their parents are urged by educators to make the "right" choice according to their capacities. Curiously, Gamoran showed that the more elective a system, the higher were its students' achievement levels (Gamoran, 1990). Selectivity is the extent of homogeneity within tracks. It is the amount of homogeneity educators intend to create by dividing students into groups according to characteristics for learning. The more selective a system is, the more the organization of its students does not represent the composition of its whole student body and the more between-class differences are accentuated (Gamoran, 1990).

Inclusiveness is the availability of options for subsequent educational opportunities (Gamoran, 1990). In other words, does the instruction a student receives prepare him or her for further acquisition of knowledge down the road, or does it cut the student off from other options. Finally, scope is the breadth and flexibility of a tracking assignment; the extent to which students are located in the same track across their subjects (Gamoran, 1990).

Effects of ability grouping

Ability grouping has a number of effects on that have an impact on student performance and they can be categorised as achievement, self-concept, expectancies and attitudes, socio-economic maintenance, and opportunities for learning.


In examining the first issue, which is achievement, the first question to be answered is what is achievement and how is it measured? Achievement can be defined as the successful attainment of skills. There a various ways in which achievement can be measured. Most commonly used in the studies and are considered here are achievement tests and/or grades on report cards. Both measurements allow for a comparison of skills among students. Reuman's 1989 study tried to answer the question of whether or not social comparisons mediate the relation between ability grouping and students' achievement expectancies in mathematics. While his study primarily included information on student expectations of their achievement, results concerning actual achievement were also stated. Mathematics achievement was measured for sixth-graders from a suburban public school district in South-eastern Michigan using both achievement test scores and report card grades. His findings pertained to within-class and between-class ability grouping. He found that within-class grouping raised high-achievers' mathematics grades. This may be explained by the fact that in a heterogeneous classroom using within-class grouping, students of varying abilities were being compared to each other. In within-class grouping the high-achievers were not in competition with all high-achieving students. Their grades were being compared with grades of average and low-achieving students and would therefore be higher. Conversely, low-achievers' grades would e lower. The opposite was true for between class ability groupings. Reuman found that high high-achievers received lower grades in between-class grouping and the low-achievers received higher grades when compared to within-class grouping. In between-class grouping the high achievers are no longer at the top of their class nor are the low achievers at the bottom. They are now being compared to students of similar abilities and their grades reflect that fact. Although Reuman's study did not focus on secondary students, it is practical to include this report since it gives a comparison and contrast of within-class and between-class ability grouping and there is a growing trend towards moving the sixth-grade into the middle schools.

Newfield and McElyea (1983) looked at sophomore and senior achievement differences in remedial and advanced mathematics and English classes as they compared to heterogeneous classes. Heterogeneous classes that included low-achievers performed better on the written portion of the English test. Low-achieving seniors and sophomores in the heterogeneous classes showed higher mathematics achievement. However, homogeneous-grouped classes of high-achieving sophomores and seniors in advanced classes exhibited greater achievement in both mathematics and English. No significant differences were found beyond these results. Regarding the effects of ability grouping on within-class achievement, Sorenson and Hallinan's study (1985) found that grouping increases inequality of achievement. Briefly, considering their study at the difference in reading achievement between within-class grouped students and heterogeneous classrooms for fourth through seventh graders from North California, their primary result concerning achievement for within-class grouping was that high-ability groups attained a higher achievement than low-ability groups. These results were bases primarily on data from elementary schools and may not directly apply to secondary students, but this study has been included in this research paper to add insight to the subject of homogeneous versus heterogeneous effects on achievement.

Testing the effects on the differences between mathematics achievements of within-class ability grouping, heterogeneous and cooperative-learning grouped classrooms, Slavin and Karweit (1984) conducted two experiments. The first included fourth through sixth graders from integrated, urban, untracked schools in which the teachers were given appropriate training. The second experiment included third through fifth grade students from rural, mostly white, tracked schools with no specific teacher training. The subjects in these experiments were called untreated, control classes. The reason for conducting both experiments was to be able to generalize the results of their study to different school situations and locations. In the heterogeneous classes the teachers were trained to emphasize a high ratio of active teaching to seatwork. Mathematics was taught in context of meaning, not in isolation and there were frequent questions and feedback. In these classes, teachers taught at a rapid pace and strived to increase student time on task. In the within-class ability-grouped classes, teachers were trained to teach with the same concepts as described in the heterogeneous classes, but were instructed to differentiate their pace and materials for the two groups. In the cooperative learning classes, students worked in heterogeneous learning teams of four or five members. They worked on individualized mathematics materials at their own levels and pace, and the team members helped one another with any problems.

Slavin and Karweit (1984) found that the results were similar for both experiments. Cooperative learning groups and within-class ability groups increased computational skills significantly more than in heterogeneous classes that had no grouping. There was a similarity in achievement effects when using the cooperative learning and within-class grouping treatments. This study showed that grouping third to sixth grade students in some way is beneficial to achievement when compared with no grouping at all. Again, this study focused on elementary school but did offer cooperative learning as an alternative to the traditional use of either homogeneous or heterogeneous classrooms. There are other researchers who also conducted studies on this topic whose findings are summarised as follows. A meta-analysis (1990), conducted by Goldring, on the differences in achievement of gifted students between homogeneous and heterogeneous classes included studies spanning grades three through twelve. Goldring found that the higher the grade level, the more gifted students benefited from specialized or homogeneous classes. Teacher training for gifted programs directly affected student achievement. Students in special classes, whose teachers had received special training to teach gifted students, achieved more than gifted students in heterogeneous classes as compared to students in gifted classes whose teachers were not specially trained (Goldring, 1990).

Seemingly conflicting results are found in the following three studies. Kulik and Kulik's (1987) meta-analysis included many older studies dating back to the 1920's, and they too support Goldring's findings that homogeneous grouping of gifted students increased their achievement. Looking beyond gifted students in general, Slavin conducted a synthesis of twenty-nine studies from the years 1927-1986. He found that between-class ability groups, dominant in secondary schools had little or no effect on achievement. He further said that different forms of grouping were equally ineffective (Slavin, 1990). Gamoran and Berends (1987) too studied the effects of ability grouping on secondary school and found quite the opposite. They found that ability grouping and tracking did indeed affect student achievement and that the differences between achievements may have resulted from variations in student academic experiences.

Allan's critique (1991) of the inconsistencies between Kulik and Kulik's (1987) and Slavin's (1990) findings advises wariness in interpreting the reviews about ability grouping and the gifted. In both studies, achievement was measured by the use of standardized test scores. Scores of gifted students are usually high and approach a maximum possible score. As they come closer to the maximum, it is difficult for these gifted students, measured in this way, to show significant academic improvement as they already represent the upper echelon of achievement. This consequence may help to account for the differences in results of studies which examine gifted versus regularly-placed students. Another problem with the use of standardized tests was that they did not necessarily evaluate what teachers were teaching. Allan recommended the use of teacher-made tests when comparing student progress in homogeneous versus heterogeneous classes. Slavin included studies that used teacher-made tests, but there was a problem with his selection process. He only included studies when the teacher-made tests were designed to assess objectives taught in all classes. Generally, objectives will vary among the three ability groups of high, average, and low and the only tests that would meet Slavin's criteria would be those that tested for minimal objectives. Again, this will not successfully demonstrate achievement gains for average and high ability classes.

Allan stressed that the most harmful aspect of the homogeneous versus heterogeneous controversy is the misrepresentations of researchers' findings, especially Slavin's. some writers may look at Slavin's results and misinterpret them to support their own beliefs. An equally damaging example is that some school systems used Slavin's findings to make decisions on gifted or special education programs. In reality, Slavin did not include either group in his study. In examination of achievement, not only should the effects of ability grouping be considered but also how schools structure their tracking practices. Different types of tracking systems do have different effects on student achievement. What makes a tracking practice differ from school to school is the extent of emphasis a system places on selectivity, inclusiveness, scope, and electivity. A tracking system which exhibited a high degree of selectivity or high levels of homogeneity, the larger were the differences in achievement between each track.


In reviewing the studies examining the effects of tracking on secondary students, it was found that self-concept is a very significant variable. Self-concept can be defined as the self evaluation of a student's abilities in comparison to his or her other classmates. Student self-concept depends on their comfort and deftness with social comparison processes. Self-concept not only reflects how students rate their abilities by social comparison to other classmates, but it also includes their self-esteem, the way the feel about themselves. Ability grouping and tracking practices have a strong effect on self-concept as the level or group a student is placed affects the variables with which he or she may gauge his or her own performance and ability. For secondary students, their self-concept does relate to their group placement. In homogeneous systems, high-ability students rate high levels of self-concept, while the low-ability students exhibited lower levels of self-concept (Byrne, 1988; Reuman, 1983; Spenser & Allen, 1988). A study following sophomores to their senior year found that their self-concept remains constant for academic tracks (high-ability students) and regular tracks (average-ability students), but self-concept declines for the vocational-tracked student (low-ability) (Vanfossen, Jones & Spade, 1987). In heterogeneous classes of English and Social studies, secondary students experience higher degrees of self concept and self esteem. Compared to the homogeneous classes, teachers, who in this study were teaching to mixed-ability groups for the first time, perceived elevated levels of self-concept and self-esteem from their average and lower students (Poppish et al, 1990).

Low tracked students in eleventh and twelfth grade academic classes frequently compared their abilities to the students in high tracks and the low-track students did see themselves as less capable (Byrne, 1991; Reuman, 1983; Vanfossen et al, 1987). However, in general curriculum classes, the low-tracked students used social comparison processes less and placed less emphasis on academic skills. In these classes, it was found that knowledge was not as important as popularity with peers (Byrne, 1991). Social comparison processes are an important mediator of the relationship between ability grouping and self-concept. In a study of ninth-grade mathematics classes, within-class grouping for high and average groups positively affects the self-evaluation for those students because of the way they compare themselves to the ability of the other students in their class. The low-ability group demonstrated lower levels of self-concept as they saw that their mathematics abilities did not equal the other groups in the classroom. The high-ability students compared themselves to students who were less mathematically capable and rated their own abilities high (Reuman, 1983).

In contrast, the self-concept for between-class grouped students related to the ability group in which the students were placed, i.e. high-ability students had high degrees of self-concept, average ability had average degrees of self-concept and low-ability students saw themselves as having poor mathematics abilities (Reuman, 1983). Reuman's study (1983) also found that gender plays a role in students' self-concept. Unlike boys, girls are reluctant to compare themselves academically to others. For these students, who do not use social comparison, their group level strongly relates to their self-concept of their mathematics abilities. The effects of grouping on gifted students' self-concept showed no significant differences between heterogeneous and homogeneous classes. On of the mythical proponents for gifted clauses is that specialized classes will benefit gifted students' self-concept. However, gifted students in homogeneous, specialized classes do not exhibit higher degrees of self-concept than gifted students in heterogeneous, mixed-ability classes (Goldring, 1991).

When looking at the impact homogeneous grouping versus heterogeneous grouping has on students' self-concept, it is important to consider the findings as they pertain to high, average and low achievers in heterogeneous, between-class grouping and within-class grouping. It would be deceiving to generalize the results of heterogeneous versus homogeneous grouping for all students without looking at these finer breakdowns.

Expectancies and Attitudes

Expectancies, as defined in this research paper, are the hopes and ideas students as well as teachers bring with them into a classroom or to a lesson on how they will succeed, and what they expect to learn. It is argued that tracking and ability grouping contribute to the inequality of education by varying student expectancies for successful performance and their attitudes towards school (Oakes, 1985). In her 1985 study of 25 high schools and 25 junior high school, Oakes found that high-track students have higher expectations for successful performance, while low track students tend to feel more alienated from their school's educational demands and further educational opportunities. In the process of examining the body of current research on ability grouping for its effects, it was found that much of the literature did not take into consideration expectancies or attitudes as variables.

A study of ninth and tenth grade English and Social studies classes showed that students of average and high abilities had more positive expectancies for their heterogeneous classes and their learning activities as compared to their homogeneous counterparts. As the expectancies of the heterogeneous students increased so did their motivation to learn. In this study, the heterogeneous classes were tried for the first time in this school, which had previously grouped homogeneously using between-class groups (Poppish et al, 1990). Teacher expectancies play a part in the impact of ability grouping. In high school history classes, a study found that teachers have lower expectancies for their low-ability students (Muskin, 1990). This type of teacher expectancy manifests itself in the way teachers prepare for low-ability students. Granted they must take into consideration the lower abilities of these students, but these classes resulted din higher rates of non-instructional time. Low-ability history classes were also marked with a low or non-frequency of critical thinking skills, which are skills teachers seem to reserve for their high-ability students. One author (Muskin, 1990) suggests that critical thinking skills are taught at a higher frequency to the higher ability students because teachers expect high-ability students to be more prepared to handle that kind of knowledge.

Achievement expectancies were measured for sixth graders in mathematics in a 1983 study. The achievement expectancies are a combination of self-concept of mathematics ability, expectation for high success in mathematics, and the perception of mathematics as an easy subject. Similar to self-concept, Reuman found that within-class grouping accentuated the sixth-grade high-achievers' positive perceptions and the low-achievers' negative expectancies. This was because higher ability students tended to make downward comparisons and the low-ability students made upward comparisons (Reuman, 1989). This study's results for between-class grouping found that homogeneous grouping both raised and lowered the achievement expectancies for both high and low-ability students. The grades received by the students in this study corresponded to their expectancies. The high-achievers in within-class grouping received higher grades than their between-class counterparts. Just as their achievement expectancies were low, the grades of the low-achievers received in the within-class grouping were lower than the low-ability students' grades in the between-class grouping. This study did not exclude the average learners. It found that there was no difference for the achievement expectancies of the average-ability students for their within or between-class grouping (Reuman, 1989).

The practice of ability grouping can affect students' attitudes as well as their expectations. In a 1983 study on high and low achieving sophomores and seniors, it was found that the high achievers' attitude were more positive in the homogeneous mathematics and English classes, while for the low-achievers, the heterogeneous, the heterogeneous classes had more positive impact on their attitudes. In comparing equivalent high-achieving sophomores and seniors from heterogeneous classes with the homogeneous, advanced classes, the study learned that the high-achieving, homogeneous students scored higher in positive attitudes toward subject, self and school. For low-achieving sophomores, positive attitudes toward subject and self were stronger for the mixed-ability students. The homogeneous, remedial class exhibited increased signs of dread toward their subject. As for the seniors, there was no significant difference between their attitudes for subject, self and school for either mixed or homogeneous classes. However, in the subject mathematics, the mixed-ability low-achieving seniors scored slightly higher in their attitudes toward the subject (Newfield & McElyea, 1983).

From these studies, it can be deduced that the higher the grade, the less the practice of ability grouping plays in the effect on expectancies and attitudes (Newfield & McElyea, 1983; Reuman, 1989). Nevertheless, for middle school and early high school, expectancies and attitudes are important aspects of ability groupings' impact on student performance (Gamoran, 1990, Reuman, 1989). Their role with achievement reinforces the importance of considering expectancies and attitudes when analyzing the impact of ability grouping.

Socioeconomic status maintenance

Some researcher have found (Jones, Vanfossen & Spade, 1987; Goodland & Oakes, 1988; Oakes, 1986; Vanfossen et al, 1987) that students' ethnic backgrounds and/or economic status highly influences their track placement. These researchers believed that while ability was an important predictor of placement, it alone did not determine which ability level a student was placed during his or her high school education. Oakes (1986) traced the history of splitting students into groups destined for further academic studies and others for vocational endeavours, back to the turn of the century. In the early 1900's there was an influx of immigrants and emancipated backs seeking education in the public schools. The leaders in education decided that the best education for these new students would be one which trained them for work, one that would help them to make a living. Accordingly, many researchers (Jones et al, 1987; Goodland & Oakes; 1988 Oakes, 1986; Vanfossen et al, 1987) today have found that not much has changed. Students of higher socioeconomic backgrounds are typical of the academically of high-tracked ability groups whereas minorities and the poor are disproportionately placed in general or vocational tracks.

Tracking assignments are generally based on standardized test scores and teacher or counsellor judgment. Standardized-test bias ad teacher or counsellor prejudice may account for the disproportionate placement of poor and minority students in low-tracked classes (Oakes, 1985). Jones et al (1987) included in their research the placement of students into academic tracks based on their socioeconomic backgrounds. They used statistics from 1908 data base entitled the "High School and Beyond Study." The sample of subjects used in their study included those seniors of 1982 who had remained in the same track they had been placed as sophomores in 1980. They found that the higher the amount of inclusiveness, the smaller the effect that students' socioeconomic backgrounds had on their location in an academic track. Additionally, the lesser the amount of inclusiveness, the smaller were the social class differences among students in the vocational and general tracks.

Oakes (1986) looked at the effects of placing students into academic versus vocational tracks. She was concerned about her findings on the large percentage of minorities in the vocational programs and found that these programs taught low-level skills for low-level jobs that are in danger of early obsolescence. In contrast, her research showed that a large percentage of white students in the academic tracks were learning the problem-solving skills needed in preparation for the workplace of the future rather than learning skills for bygone jobs of the past. The reason for using the term "status maintenance" is because as long as minorities and the poor typify students in vocational or low-level ability groups, schools will continue to limit these students' access to lower skill levels than their higher-tracked peers (Oakes, 1986). The findings overwhelmingly confirm that the socioeconomic status and ethnic backgrounds of the students influence their track placements.

Opportunities for learning

In this section, opportunities for learning is equated with equal access to quality education. Opportunities for learning include the amounts of instruction time and homework given, the curricular content taught, the materials used, the activities engaged in, and teacher presentation. These factors are compared in the ability groups of high, medium and low to decide if each group is receiving comparable opportunities for learning and if not, what are the differences. Of the research that discussed opportunities for learning considered in this paper all agreed that inequalities existed when any kind of ability grouping was used. All of the authors focussed on between-class ability grouping except for Sorenson and Hallinan (1986) who discussed within-class ability grouping.

Trimble and Sinclair (1987) studied the differences in the curricular content and instructional methods of United States history classes across the three ability groups in six Massachusetts high schools. Muskin's research (1990) also used the United States history classes from six high schools to study the differences in opportunities for learning in honors, regular and basic classes. Both Goodland and Oakes (1988), Lake (1988), and Oakes (1986) presented a summary of findings from previous research. All of these authors agree on the following findings.

A higher percentage of time was devoted to instruction, time on task and homework in the higher-tracked classes than in the lower tracks. High-tracked, college-bound instruction emphasized analysis and critical-thinking skills, while non-college bound instruction concentrated on rote memory and low-level knowledge skills (Goodland & Oakes, 1988; Lake, 1988; Muskin, 1990; Oakes, 1986; Trimble & Sinclair, 1987). In many cases, teachers in low-ability classes spent more time controlling behaviour problems which resulted in decreased learning time, than did teachers of high-ability classes (Goodland & Oakes, 1988; Lake, 1988; Muskin, 1990; Oakes, 1986; Trimble & Sinclair, 1987). Trimble and Sinclair (1987) also talked about the affective goals of the United States history classes. Affective goals as they apply to United States history describe teachers' efforts to develop a sense of broadened feelings for the humanities and cultivate a desire to become good citizens. The affective domain does not concentrate on the memorization of facts and figures; rather it develops an appreciation for what students are learning and how it applies to their daily lives. This can be generalized to all school subjects. There was a disparity in the time devoted to affective goals between the high-ability classes and the low and average classes. The high-ability classes spent more time pursuing affective goals while the low and average classes spent more time on the memorization of facts (Trimble & Sinclair, 1987).

Findings concerning teacher expectations seemed to impact on the opportunities for learning. Some teachers enjoyed teaching the higher ability classes more than the lower ability ones and consequently this was reflected in their clarity of presentation, task orientation, enthusiasm, effective use of materials and the variety of activities planned for their classes. Teachers of higher ability classes demonstrated a higher level of all the characteristics just mentioned than teachers of lower grouped classes (Lake, 1988; Oakes, 1986; Trimble & Sinclair, 1987).

While the above results referred to between-class grouping, Sorenson and Hallinan's (1986) research study concentrated on within-class grouping in upper elementary and middle school grades. They found that because a teacher's instructional time was divided between three ability groups, there was less opportunity for learning because there was less direct instructional time devoted to each group. While these grouped students in heterogeneous classrooms may have received less direct teacher instruction, the instruction they did get may have provided for more learning. Students were taught in smaller groups and instruction was adapted to their abilities. Small, homogeneous groups rather than one large heterogeneous group facilitated learning. Both Gamoran (1990) and Oakes (1985) researched the effects of tracking on student and educational outcomes. These researchers found that there were content differences between high and low-tracked classes. In school, students can only learn to what they are exposed. Oakes (1985) writes "Yet it is clear from the research on tracking that the practice constitutes a government action that restricts students' immediate access to certain types of education and to both educational and occupational opportunities in the future" (p. 189).

Whether or not the same content was available in each track level, the differences in amount of time devoted and the instructional mode used, directly affected what students learned (Gamoran, 1990; Oakes, 1985). It is clear from the studies cited in this section that inequalities regarding opportunities for learning do exist when tracking or ability grouping is used.


The studies and articles which have been reviewed rarely agreed on the benefits or harmful effects of ability grouping. The balance of the available evidence does suggest that grouping affects achievement, self-concept, expectancies and attitudes, and opportunities for learning. While these four issues are affected by grouping, ability grouping is affected by socioeconomic status. One must remember when comparing the effects of heterogeneous and homogeneous classes' achievement, three types of classroom structures are being evaluated: heterogeneous or whole-class instruction, within-class ability grouping, and between-class ability grouping. Generally findings are different for each structure.

When looking specifically at within-class grouping, it is found that high-ability groups attain a higher achievement than low-ability groups (Reuman, 1989). In comparison to heterogeneous grouping, within-class grouping and cooperative learning groups are more beneficial to achievement (Slavin & Karweit, 1984). In consideration of between-class ability grouping, widely used in secondary schools (Slavin, 1990), low achievers received higher grades and high achievers received lower grades (Reuman, 1989). When comparing between-class grouping to heterogeneous classes we found that high achievers in advanced-tracked classes showed greater achievement than high achievers in heterogeneous classes (Newfield & McElyea, 1983).

Summarily, ability grouping is not necessarily harmful, but the practice of ability grouping unsupported by an overall educational purpose can lead to unclear effects on student educational outcomes and performance in mathematics. It is a recommendation that any school seeking to re-evaluate their grouping system should take into consideration the student body composition, the purpose of ability group placement and the desired educational outcomes. Before adopting any ability-group method, one needs to consider their school's commitment to teacher training, ability to support staff and the benefits of the employment of cooperative learning as an instructional method.