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We need ability grouping now


t seems many thought the budget cuts recently announced in Lakota were only going to affect actual fiscal matters. But it has been revealed that new budget will directly impact the education of all students currently attending Lakota Local Schools. In addition to other money saving strategies like employee slashing and fund stretching, Lakota officials intend to remove a tier of the educational ability grouping that was currently used the district. Starting in the 2012-13 school year there will no longer be a remedial or regular level of curriculum, instead the regular and college prep levels will merge, creating one large tier. The concept of ability grouping, not new to modern education, continues to be the subject of controversy because many don’t understand its true aims or benefits. The idea for students to be categorized according to their appropriate skill level began in the 19th century as a part of the educational reform movement. In this period, before the reforms, students of all ages were collaboratively taught in the archetypal schoolhouse and were taught with whatever resources the local community could muster. Educational professionals realized that learning could be maximized if students learned under a constantly improving curricular system. Over time the system was polished and improved into what we see today where students within each grade our taught under varying difficulties. Unfortunately, the error that many people make in the initial examination of the issue is to confuse ability grouping with the very similar practice of educational tracking. The latter method is when students are assembled by ability but across an entire curriculum, where as in ability grouping students are categorized by demonstrated proficiency in a specific subject. Most people are surprised to learn that the method of separation on the basis of ability actually most directly affects teachers and not students. The reason for this is that teachers are provided with a greater level of flexibility and freedom. Instead of

catering to many different degrees of skill in ability-isolated settings teachers only have to accommodate one skill level. For example, educational professionals teaching a lower skilled course can exacerbate understanding with the repetition of major themes. While a teacher instructing a higher skilled course can encourage students to apply knowledge to broader and more complicated concepts. On the other hand, ability grouping has many positive advantages for the students as well. When students are separated with other like ability learners the academic tensions present in mixed ability classrooms can be defused. For example, top achieving students in tense environments can decrease the selfesteem of lower achieving students. Also, researchers in 1996 (Argys, Rees and Brewer) found that high capability students achievement dropped when lower skilled learners were integrated into the classroom. Other advantages for students using this method correlate with the specific type of ability isolation used in the teaching environment Ability grouping continues to be a controversial issue because of the inequality many critics believe are present in grouping settings. There are many statistics and independent studies that tend to support the fact that many of the minority groups in this country collectively tend to be in lower achieving tier. What people fail to realize is that this is a larger socio-economic problem where ability grouping and tracking is not completely to blame. The reason for this larger problem has more to do with widening educational gaps within many races. Things like high incarceration rates, low economic means and frequent single parenting are most often the cause this educational gap. It is unclear at this point how the education of Lakota students will be affected by the impending changes coming to the district. However it is clear that many persons in Lakota sphere are upset that the financial woes of the district may possibly have a negative impact the education of students in the district.

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