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Ability Grouping -- Research Starters Education

By: Merritt, Roy D.;

2008 / EBSCO


This article discusses ability grouping, also known as tracking or homogenous grouping, in the public schools. Ability grouping has resulted in dividing the all-school program into different tracks and subtracks. Ability grouping emanated from the "efficiency" movement and the principles of scientific management which increasingly dominated American education during the first four decades of the twentieth century. High schools have always grouped students typically in three curriculum tracks: college-preparatory, general education and vocational education. Among the factors that have been used to group students are general intelligence and/or prior achievement scores, aptitude, interests, learning styles and learning speeds. Students receive a differentiated curriculum and differentiated instruction based on their ability-group assignment. A growing consensus based on evidence from educational research is that students perform at higher levels and achieve more in schools that do not practice ability grouping or tracking. Advocates of educational change in the U.S. support the elimination of ability grouping or academic tracking. This article discusses the characteristics of ability grouping or tracking programs, outlines key issues and related questions, examines arguments for and against the practice, and summarizes the evidence and conclusions of educational research.