Classes Grouped by Ability Level

Discussion in 'Elementary Education' started by missrebecca, Oct 30, 2015.

  1. missrebecca

    missrebecca Comrade

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    What's your opinion on classes grouped by ability level (high, medium, low)? My school does this, and I have a "low/medium" class. I don't want to make that sound negative, but my students have had lower grades in the past than the "high" level classes.

    The low/medium ability classes have more support from the SPED department, which is helpful, but it is very difficult to teach. At any point when I look around during a lesson, there are multiple students who have no idea what is going on, can't read the textbook, can't write the answer on their own, avoid work, etc. Some have IEP's/ILLP's, some have problems at home that seem to leak into their school day, and some are just slower at grasping concepts. I don't always have help, and when I do, the support instructors are usually busy with one or two kiddos who need help the most, and the rest rely on me. It's a lot to handle, and I feel like I'm not doing a great job of giving each student the attention they need.

    I honestly feel like the "medium/high" classes have it way easier, because they say their students get the material right away and they're able to move on to the next activity. They do have to challenge their students more, though. And I guess one benefit of our leveled classes is that our whole class typically "gets" a lesson and completes assignments at about the same pace, rather than having stragglers far ahead or far behind everyone else.

    Do you think leveled classes are a good idea? Do you prefer truly mixed ability level classes, with high, medium, and low ability levels? If you have experience, I would love to hear what it has been like for you and how you made it work. :)
     
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  3. jadorelafrance

    jadorelafrance Cohort

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    We have CP (college prep) which include generally the "low/medium" kids and require a lot more classroom management. Absolutely no sped support whatsoever for world languages, which is frustrating. Last year I had a class of 27 students with 10 with an IEP and other kids with behavioral management issues. Then I had higher level kids in that class that really wanted to learn and we had to go at a pretty slow pace. It was a pretty mixed batch. I had students who couldn't even copy down guided notes for 5 mins (non-IEP) due to being distracted, bored, etc. I felt like I was managing the class more than teaching. it was tough.
     
  4. jadorelafrance

    jadorelafrance Cohort

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    I honestly don't know what my opinion of grouped levels are. I agree that the more advanced classes are easier to teach, but we have to reach everyone. There's so much stigma attached to CP/A/H and many of the CP kids think they're not as smart or that being CP is their identify. And sometimes these classes require a really tough, yet understanding teacher.
    I just think that some of these "CP" kids really want to learn, but can be hindered by other kids in the class. I do wonder if a more mixed class would alleviate some of these classroom management issues due to separating problem kids into different classes (instead of throwing them all in one class) and maybe kids would rise to the expectations of a more accelerated curriculum to accommodate everyone.

    Honestly, this is my first job where we have tracking. When I was in HS, there was no tracking, but as a student I didn't notice any issues. The problem where I am at is once these kids are tracked, they're stuck and really cannot move up without drowning.
     
  5. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    Within school ability grouping is a terrible idea. The research shows lower performance for the high groups and much much lower performance for the low groups. The mid groups show some benefit. Within school ability grouping is a way to hinder learning for the kids in the low groups. I think it was probably done for a noble reason, but there are much more effective ways of differentiating instruction than ability grouping. I would lobby for mixed grouping next year or change schools if possible.
     
  6. missrebecca

    missrebecca Comrade

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    That's interesting to hear. Do you have a link to that study or article? I'd love to read up more on the research side of things.
     
  7. missrebecca

    missrebecca Comrade

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    Whoa, I can't believe they put 10 students with IEP's in one class without extra support. D:

    One thing I've tried to do for the higher level kids is to give them a more advanced project that they can manage on their own, if they finish their classwork early... but it's tricky to keep an eye on the project, support them with it, and also teach everyone else.
     
  8. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    There a tons of studies you can access. This one is pretty powerful. It's from the National Association of School Psychologists. This one is an excerpt from the highly regarded Classroom Instruction That Works by Marzano. You can also do a search for studies by Oakes and Ability Grouping or follow the studies mentioned in the bibliographies of the two sources above.

    The main problem with the practice is that low students read much less when put into groups by ability and tend to receive skill instruction rather than literary instruction. The students in the low groups have vastly different needs. For example, one might just need to get interested in reading and read more, another might have a learning disability, another might have low cognitive abilities, and another might be ELL. All these students needs different approaches, but are in a class without kids who love reading. Denied models, these students are doubly handicapped.
     
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  9. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    We agree here in terms of tracking, and I appreciate you citing the NASP position paper. Where we disagree is the reasoning behind why tracking is bad - there's no evidence that students in "tracked" classrooms automatically read less, and there's no evidence that students receiving skill instruction is a bad thing. Quite the opposite - good "literary instruction" begins squarely with solid skill instruction. How can a student engage literature if s/he can't read it? Finally, yes - students have different needs, but that no more impacts a tracked classroom than a non-tracked one - in either situation, students' needs may be met or unmet. This is the task of differentiated instruction, not heterogeneous classrooms.

    Finally, getting back to previous discussions of skill groups within a class, it's interesting that the NASP position paper you cited actually cites Marzano's research supporting skill groups:

    Homogeneous grouping by skill level has been demonstrated to be effective for instruction in the areas of mathematics and reading (Marzano, Pickering , & Pollack, 2001).
     
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  10. Backroads

    Backroads Aficionado

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    I have no experience first-hand with in-school ability grouping and wasn't even aware of such a thing until after college. I think it sounds good in theory, but if the research says otherwise...

    I've seen various schools offer a "mastery" type of program, where students do not move from one or multiple topics until mastery is shown. I prefer that idea.
     
  11. showmelady

    showmelady Companion

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    I think ability grouping is the best way to group students.

    I don't look at it as some do, saying that this stigmatizes those who take a little longer to grasp a concept. I disagree with their idea.

    I think it allows those who take longer in any discipline to get the right amount of help, because the teacher does not have to try to spread instruction time so thin between groups.

    When I went to school (elementary and middle at least) we were grouped by ability. I do not really think any of my schoolmates suffered because they were in either the high ability or lower ability groups as opposed to the average ability. Those in the high ability classes moved at a faster pace. Those who were average moved at an average pace. And those in lower ability groups moved at a lower rate, BUT did get more one on one time, and they got the necessary help and time to learn the material.

    I would like to see all schools group students like this.
     
  12. readingrules12

    readingrules12 Aficionado

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    Tyler is correct. The research is against the type of ability grouping that you describe. It is especially harmful for the lowest students. My research comes from a large number of independent studies that were published in the book "Visible Learning" by John Hatte.
     
  13. gr3teacher

    gr3teacher Phenom

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    I've seen enough research to support ability grouping for gifted kiddos, along with my own experience (both as a teacher and student), to consider it the best method of education for gifted students (with the obvious caveat that they be educated by people trained to work with gifted kids). I don't feel particularly strong one way or another about similar groupings for high/non-gifted, medium, low kids, but I think when you get into kids who are multiple years below grade level, you're doing them a disservice by putting them in the same class as kids working on grade level.
     
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  14. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    When my great mother wanted a refrigerator, her husband, who was in the ice business, resisted. I could see his point, but I don't understand why such dedicated, obviously intelligent teachers cling to using ability grouping, when there's so much evidence showing it weaknesses. Why spend energy challenging or ignoring solid, decades-long research, when the time could be spent developing a better classroom? Why not be a better teacher?

    When a whole school organizes its classrooms this way, it restricts or eliminates upward movement, it concentrates the most fragile students and it sets low expectations for teachers and students.
     
  15. teacherintexas

    teacherintexas Maven

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    We are grouped this year. Teachers had no say. It's just the way it is this year.

    I have one class that can zip along and the other two are struggling. The problem I'm having this year is when I get a new student, the office just puts the new kid in the room with the lowest numbers. Sometimes the kid doesn't match the ability of the rest of the class. It's frustrating.

    The only benefit is that I have all of my GT students together and having them work on the required GT projects is easier since they can work with other students in the program.
     
  16. YoungTeacherGuy

    YoungTeacherGuy Phenom

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    Even when students are grouped homogeneously, there are various levels of kiddos within that class.

    One year, I taught 2nd grade GATE. I differentiated instruction to meet everyone's needs and had to do centers to make certain I was able to meet with the different levels of students. On paper, it was a homigeneous group. In realty, though, it truly wasn't.

    After that school year, I chose to go back to gen ed. In gen ed, I was able to work with all levels of students (which I totally loved) and then all children deployed for 45 min/daily for "just right" instruction (RtI or Enrichment).

    What I can say with complete certainty is that every student (high/medium/low) I served made growth while grouped heterogeneously.
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2015
  17. otterpop

    otterpop Phenom

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    I teach the low/medium class as well, and I agree that it is more of a challenge. I don't feel that it should be done this way. You end up with a lot of kids with low/medium motivation, and they feed off each other. I'd like to have some higher level kids to add more diversity to our group.
     
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  18. yellowdaisies

    yellowdaisies Fanatic

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    There are several things that bother me about this type of grouping, but I want to ask - what about the middle kids? I find it very hard to believe that ALL the middle kids in a low/medium class are always going to be at that same level. What if they show growth and should be moved to the higher class? Also, where is the cut off? There can't truly be that big of a difference between some of the middle ability kids in the low/medium group and some in the medium/high group. It's not like kids will automatically fall into one of two categories.

    And are all these kids honestly at the same ability level for reading and math? I have had students who are fabulous in math but struggle in reading. So are those kids put in the low group because of their reading abilities? What happens when they're bored out of their minds in math?

    There are just too many questions with this type of model. I don't like it at all.
     
  19. otterpop

    otterpop Phenom

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    Our kids are grouped by math scores, so it is really only helpful to the math teachers. We have the problems you bring up.
     
  20. jadorelafrance

    jadorelafrance Cohort

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    This causes problems too. The higher level/more motivated kids lose out because either the pacing is too slow or classroom management is a struggle which may ruin it for those kids. And then they're behind if they want to move up later which means they may have to work a lot harder and are not used to working that hard for a good grade. Lots of differentiation has to take place, which kind of defeats the purpose of tracking anyways.
     
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  21. yellowdaisies

    yellowdaisies Fanatic

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    I think grouping by math scores is maybe even stranger! That's really frustrating to the ELA teachers, I'm sure!
     
  22. bella84

    bella84 Aficionado

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    I had the low/average class last year, plus the behavior problems. Apparently being a sped teacher made me the most qualified to get all the tough kids... and it was tough! I don't support it.
     
  23. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    At my daughter's middle school, students were grouped by ability into 5 different classes from lowest to highest. The lowest track was packed with IEP students who took much more time (in and out of class) than other students. It also had many students with undiagnosed emotional problems. This difficult class was given to a brand new teacher who resigned part way through the year and has had a string of "long term" subs since then.

    The most experienced teacher took the highest students. If they were determined to group this way, they should have put the most experienced teacher with the low kids.

    Putting all the high needs students together deprives them of models and sends a message of expected failure to those students.
     
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  24. Pashtun

    Pashtun Fanatic

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    Why should the high achieving students get the least experienced teacher? What message does this send about how we view instruction for our brightest students?
     
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  25. TeacherGroupie

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    Every teacher is inexperienced at some point. I don't know that it's possible always to keep from placing an inexperienced teacher with highly challenging students - but when it happens, there's no excuse, both for the teacher's sake and for the students', for failing to provide that teacher with as much authentic support as possible.
     
  26. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    As for gifted students - truly gifted, not just the high achievers - what most of them most need is in fact to learn how to fail properly.

    Heterogeneous grouping teaches many young gifted kids that they are expected to grasp everything immediately on their own - that their job in the classroom is never to need the teacher's help, so the teacher's time and effort can go to children who deserve it. To need the teacher's help with a skill is thus not merely to struggle in that skill, but to fail in one's role in the classroom and so to fail as a person. That's a horrible lesson for anyone to learn, let alone a child who hasn't lived long enough to evolve defenses for his soul. The very clear message that anything that looks like failure is disaster. The young gifted child deserves no less than any other child the right to struggle and the right to both need and receive appropriate scaffolding.
     
  27. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    TeacherGroupie, I would say that the same thing happens to the top students in any classroom, even classrooms where everyone is behind. The top students are seen as needing less from the teacher because they perform better than the others. So, a child who really needs help to get to grade level may be given little to no help because he is 2 years behind instead of 4.
     
  28. Education4all

    Education4all Rookie

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    It is an excellent idea. Students that are at or above grade level need to be challenged and should not be slowed down by those students lacking ability. Students who are slightly below grade level need things at a slower pace, but this pace leaves the high kids bored and they suffer, while the low group is still lost. Those students who are 2+ grade levels behind are going to fail the standards regardless and need a classroom that will remediate and build the foundational skills necessary to be successful.

    Many schools do not segregate in this regard, but it is an honest and effective approach to meeting students needs, just not "politically correct."
     
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  29. Rabbitt

    Rabbitt Connoisseur

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    NO grouping here! I have taught both ways for many years. 1st and 2nd grade. Hands down no grouping is better. Everyone is happier and learning for the love of learning. Of course I still meet whatever needs each individual carries mostly by setting individual goals using the Daily5 CAFE. I conference regularly with each child on their reading, writing, and math. This year I switched districts and received 26 students compared to my typical 12-15. I was worried about using individual conferencing and goal setting because of the numbers, but it's still going strong as ever. Except for math but that has other issues I need to address.
     
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  30. TamiJ

    TamiJ Virtuoso

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    I don't know that I necessarily agree with this. I use both a reading and writing workshop approach which I feel really allows diverse learners to get their individual needs met, as well as grow and develop as appropriate for them. In this way, everyone is moving ahead and working on next steps, and those next steps look different for each student.
     
  31. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    A well-trained teacher can meet the academic needs of his or her students without ability grouping. If you don't think this is possible for you to do this, I would suggest you could benefit from some classes or an adjustment in your expectations. Lower students need more instruction, not less, if they are to catch up.

    Segregating students by ability is honest; I don't think teachers intentionally want to cause harm to their students. But ability grouping is not effective—especially for students in the lower tracks.
     
  32. mathmagic

    mathmagic Enthusiast

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    While we have a variety of supports (a RTI, but differently worded, special ed, ELL, etc...), for the most part, I don't group by ability. I will identify students who I know will need additional help, and work the scheduling of my activities such that I know I'll be able to provide them that, but I haven't split them into different "levels" persay. Rather, I'll provide a range of opportunities within the instructional block - after the direct instruction (and guided practice, some independent practice...etc...), students who are struggling can work with me, and those who are successful can work through, get to the problem solving and focus a bunch on that, and then work on extension math menus that I've built that push them much, much deeper into the content while remaining accessible with what we've learned. I may, at some point, group by ability slightly for reading groups, but even if I do, the focus will be the same across groups, the main difference being the level of the book, and dependency levels somewhat.

    (Though there's a couple exceptions: in spelling, I work with two subgroups of the class depending on what I see from each pre-test...however, I try to keep the same spelling pattern and just add on an additional focus. Occasionally, I'll also try to provide practice that is specific to the students' levels - so practicing the vocabulary is done at a level that is right for them -- since I have a range from ELL with low vocab all the way to 4+ grade levels above)

    Ugh...rambled...sorry!
     
  33. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    Is there any difference in student achievement when students are grouped by ability level in the secondary grades?
     
  34. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    I usually study the literature pertaining to elementary education, but what I recall is the same things hold true. The exception would be for classes the require prerequisites like Spanish 3 and Calculus. These classes don't really have a filter to keep lower performing kids out except they must complete the earlier classes.
     
  35. justateacher123

    justateacher123 Rookie

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    How ?
    I think you sound stupid. A teacher is responsible to also extend higher students. Work should be made more challenging for them. On the other hand, with your lowest students, you group them all together and they all feed off each other. I agree that they need models. More teachers aren't going to magically appear in a low ability classroom. Instead, you are stretching a teacher very thin trying to remediate and provide support to 20 students rather than 5-8. The same content still needs to be taught.
     
  36. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Phenom

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    Did you really see a point in reviving a two-year old thread? Ad hominem attacks don’t make your “argument” any more substantive, either.

    I have had great success with ability grouping. The high-level performing students suffer because they get very bored when they have to sit through a class where I have to explain basic concepts to the low-level performers. To them, it’s like having to be taught your ABC’s for 50 minutes. In fact, I have had several students approach me and ask to be moved or be given more advanced material because they found the regular class instruction too easy. It is not fair to high and medium students if you teach to the least able.

    Personally, I like ability grouping because I can just focus on content. For my high-level performing math students, I can show them proofs, give them challenging problems like investigative tasks, and I use project-based learning to great effect. One other thing I like is that I can teach more advanced concepts outside of the curriculum. For the middle students I can still offer them challenge, but at the same time provide intervention and remediation as needed. The pacing is not as quick since they have different needs, but students have the option to move up to the higher-level classes if they demonstrate mastery. In the lower-level class, I scaffold, break down concepts into lay terms, explain every single step and the motivations for each step, I do whiteboard turn-and-talks, Kahoot activities, have students come up and write their answers on the SMART Board, I use manipulatives much more, I have the students do peer-to-peer tutoring, and we don’t move on until the students master the concepts. Sure, it takes longer to instruct the lower-level students, but they don’t feel pressured to perform at the same level as the higher- and medium-level performers and they get the individual help they need.

    Finally, I have had countless parents say that they are glad that I teach this way. The administration is supportive of me, too. Standardized test scores are high across the grade levels because of my teaching style, too — students typically score in the 80th percentile and above with rare exception. My school also has the highest SAT/ACT scores in the entire county (population is well over 400,000) because I give practice SAT problems at the start of every period before homework discussion. The only difference is, I give the low-level performers mostly easy questions with the occasional medium-level question, the middle students mostly medium-level difficulty questions with the occassional hard problem, and the top performers mostly hard-level questions with the occasional medium or easy problem.
     
  37. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    I bet you are a really good teacher. If you studied how to achieve the same results without putting all your low students together, you'd be even better. Ability grouping harms the low kids. Marzano, in a giant meta study, showed that the only groups that benefit from ability grouping are the middle groups. High ability groups show no benefit and low groups show less progress.
     
  38. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Phenom

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    I guess my classroom would be a counterexample, wouldn’t it? It just needs to be done right. For example, I have Pre-Calculus and Pre-Calculus Honors, Statistics by Application and AP Statistics, regular core Algebra 2 (students in the regular class have to take Trigonometry before they take Pre-Calc.) and Algebra 2 Honors/Trig (students in this class can skip Trig and go straight to Pre-Calculus Honors), Geometry Honors and regular core Geometry, Pre-Algebra and Advanced Pre-Algebra.

    My data speaks for itself and this is the 4th year I’ve been doing this — I have a proven track record. However, the administration and parents were initially reluctant, but when they saw test scores soar they switched to my teaching style with open arms.

    ALL my students benefit because I devote so much time to their learning. Case in point, I offer tutoring EVERY lunch in my classroom and every day after school for 45 minutes. All students may show up regardless of their indivudal level of understanding. I also offer what I call “race tests” where students get practice tests and practice quizzes and try to answer them as fast as they can in simulated test conditions.

    On average, medium-level performers typically go on to become high-level performers and low-level performers occasionally become medium students and in rare instances become high-level performers. My methods work because I go above and beyond for my students and I WILL continue to do it this way because NOT all students are equal in terms of their thinking ability. There is an IQ curve for a reason and I’m just being honest. Instruction should be tailored to individual students’ needs and not just for the least able.

    If you are still not convinced, then look no further than other developed countries that are doing better than us in terms of their test scores. They don’t teach to the least able, we do. The USA is trailing far behind because the current methods do not work. At. All. Something NEW needs to be done. Trying the same thing over and over again (current methods) only produces mediocre students. College professors and employers in private industry generally agree that students are woefully unprepared and can’t even do basic arithmetic without a calculator. My students can, despite their grade level, and much more. My students do significantly better than their counterparts because I do what I do.
     
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  39. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    You are posting in an elementary school forum. I assumed you were a 5th grade teacher, or something like that. Tracking in high school also has a lot of the research literature against it, but students in an AP math class should have passed the prerequisites, or they don't belong there. Our views may be much closer than you think.
     
  40. futuremathsprof

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    Oct 8, 2017

    My argument still stands. Tracking has its merits because if it did not then my students would not exceed expectations, year after year. My low-level performers can outcompete most low-level performers immersed with medium- and high-level performers. I would even venture to say they could beat most medium-level performers, possibly even some high-level performers in other traditional schools. If what you say is true, then how is that possible? :cool:
     
  41. mathmagic

    mathmagic Enthusiast

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    Oct 8, 2017

    Well done! However, it's important to note that a horribly bad practice can still show success in some cases. It's better to look at the overall effects across more than just one or two anecdotal situations.
     

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