Schools Should Use Both Ability Grouping and Acceleration to Help Academically Talented Students

by Jeanne Bernish on February 9, 2017

What effective educational technique has been proven time and time again to benefit the academic achievement of millions of students in U.S. schools, yet is rarely used? Ability grouping.

If committed educators could be easily trained to implement a low-cost intervention that boasted consistent learning gains for all students, headlines would herald the discovery of the educational holy grail.

That low-cost intervention is here and readily available. It’s called ability grouping. Unfortunately, despite overwhelming evidence that the flexible and appropriate use of this intervention benefits learners at all levels, some have opted to smear it as an evil twin of tracking and to lament its resurgence in the nation’s classrooms. Setting the Record Straight on Ability Grouping, Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, Education Week Teacher

Ability grouping and acceleration are proven strategies for meeting the needs of highly able children in our public school system. Yet for reasons that have nothing to do with the needs of the child, both ability grouping and acceleration have been widely ignored in the U.S.

A recent review of educational research packages 100 years of data into a neat bundle: What One Hundred Years of Research Says About the Effects of Ability Grouping and Acceleration on K–12 Students’ Academic Achievement: Findings of Two Second-Order Meta-Analyses published by Sage Journals. Any educator still using the tracking argument to argue against ability grouping should familiarize themselves with the data. Sometimes we tend to lead with our hearts when it comes to our children – but let’s not ignore the science.


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