Mixed Ability Grouping – Reading Research

The national cry for charter and magnet schools is becoming larger and quite overwhelming in many areas. The background for this public support is largely based on what is seen as strong public education for students. The introduction of these type schools however often tends to create many equity issues and frequently aggregate students according to ability in specific geographic regions. Research by Lincheuvski and Kutscher (2002) focused on the impact of aggregating students according to ability within schools largely from a quantitative standpoint. This research found that not only does mixed ability grouping increase low and middle level ability students, but does little to support the achievement of higher ability students (Lincheuvski and Kutscher, 2002).
Lincheuvski and Kutscher (2002) focused largely on three studies that pertain to student achievement and teacher attitudes toward mixed ability grouping. Evidence before this time of the study suggested that grouping students according to ability had significant effects on increasing the differences found between students before heterogeneous grouping (Lincheuvski and Kutscher, 2002). Research prior to Lincheuvski and Kutscher (2002) also suggested that mixed ability grouping. The expansion by Lincheuviski and Kutscher (2002) focused on whether this gap was created by the increase of high ability students or the decrease in low ability students and whether this gap can be avoided by mixed ability grouping. Lincheuviski and Kutscher (2002) also explained the relationship between prior research on low expectations of students in low ability groups and low quality teaching. This relationship lead Lincheuviski and Kutscher (2002) to their third study based on the relationship of teacher beliefs of mixed ability grouping, professional development, and ability to teach mixed ability groups affectively.
Evidence from the two studies by Lincheuviski and Kutscher (2002) on student achievement suggested that mixed ability grouping did little to affect achievement of high ability students. In fact, only two schools of twelve had any significant affect by placement of students in homogenous settings when prior ability was adjusted (Lincheuvski and Kutscher, 2002). High ability students from homogenous settings scored slightly higher than their counterparts in heterogeneous settings, but not significantly different (Lincheuvski and Kutscher, 2002). Larger light was shed on the positive impacts of middle and low level abilities students’ effects on heterogeneous grouping (Lincheuvski and Kutscher, 2002). Students in these mixed ability group settings scored significantly higher than their homogenous counterparts (Lincheuvski and Kutscher, 2002). These findings suggest that ability differences found in previous studies are more related to a decrease in ability of low and middle ability students than in the increase of high ability students (Lincheuvski and Kutscher, 2002). These findings should carry heavy weight for those who choose to continue on the path of tracking and streamlining students. School policies such as these tend to increase ability gaps not by increasing your best students’ knowledge, but by decreasing or lessening opportunities for lower ability students.
Previous research by Dar (as cited in Lincheuviski and Kutscher, 2002) on teachers’ attitudes show that prior experience with heterogeneous settings improves teacher’s attitude of effectiveness and impact of students. Using surveys, Lincheuviski and Kutscher (2002), attempted to measure support for heterogenetic classroom settings and workshop contributions to attitude and practice. Results from their study showed that the impact of workshops on the teaching of heterogeneous classrooms positively affected teachers’ attitudes (Lincheuvski and Kutscher, 2002). In fact, the more teachers were involved in the program the larger the impact of their attitude and effect of teaching mixed ability classrooms (Lincheuvski and Kutscher, 2002). Teachers in the study also expressed interest as well as concern for the continuing chances to develop and discuss the teaching of mixed ability classrooms because of fundamental changes that are required in instructional methods (Lincheuvski and Kutscher, 2002). Professional development for mixed ability classrooms provided strong tools and discussions that teachers would not have had opportunities to acquire, foster, and develop otherwise (Lincheuvski and Kutscher, 2002).
Implications for school systems from this research are imperative to today’s classrooms. We can no longer hold to the idea that we are intending to improve education for all by tracking our students into separate modified classrooms. Silver (1990) discussed that the relationship between research, policy, and practice should be bidirectional. Research has shown us that tracking and streamlining students fosters ability gaps between students. Not only this, but these classrooms do little to improve the achievement of our best students and devastate the achievement of lower and middle achieving students (Lincheuvski and Kutscher, 2002). Our service to the community in which we serve as teachers should be to develop each child to his or her full potential. Affective mixed ability settings with guided mentorship during the teaching of these classes fosters a community of successful students and not cluster of mathematically proficient school and community population. It is now our turn as a practitioners to direct questions to researchers about or incorporation of sound research on mixed ability classrooms.

Linchevski, L. & Kutscher, B. (2002). Tell me with whom you’re learning, and I’ll tell you how much you’ve learned: Mixed-ability versus same-ability grouping in mathematics. In J. Sowder & B. Schappelle (Eds.), Lessons learned from research (pp. 68-82). Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Silver, E. A. (1990). Contributions of research to practice: Applying findings, methods, and perspectives. In T. J. Cooney & C. R. Hirsch (Eds.), Teaching and learning mathematic in the 1990’s (pp 1-11). Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.


2 responses to “Mixed Ability Grouping – Reading Research

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