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Ability Grouping – Is It Back?

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By Dr. Marciene Mattleman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - In elementary school did the teacher put you in the lowest reading group? There was no way to hide it; you were labeled a bad reader! Those were the days of ability grouping, which fell into disfavor in the 1990’s as “perpetuating inequality.”

A recently released interesting report from the Brookings Institution, as part of the Brown Center on American Education, finds that ability grouping “inevitably separates by characteristics correlated statistically with measures of ability that include race, ethnicity, native language and class.”

Now, data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, indicates a resurgence of ability grouping, from 28% in 1998 to 71% in 2009.

According to the report, while there have been some beneficial effects for ability-grouping, other data suggest that lower-grouped students learn substantially less and findings from other research reveal that when less-able kids work along with stronger kids academically, the poorer readers improve.