Term of Art: Ability Grouping

“ability grouping: The practice of assigning students to classes on the basis of their past achievement or presumed ability to learn. In schools that use ability grouping, low-performing students will be in one class, hig-performing students in another, and average-performing students in yet another. This grouping by ability is called homogenous grouping, whereas the practice of mixing students of different abilities in the same class is called heterogenous grouping. Some schools group students by ability in certain subjects, like mathematics, but not in others, like social studies or English. Researchers disagree about whether ability grouping is beneficial. Advocates say that a certain amount of grouping is not only inevitable but also better for students, Many teachers find it daunting to teach classes with a wide range of ability because they must worry about boring students at the high end or ability while moving too rapidly for students at the other extreme. Critics of ability grouping contend that those placed in lower tracks encounter low expectations and are not sufficiently challenged. They also say that in most subject areas, students with lower or higher skills have much to learn from one another.”

Excerpted from: Ravitch, Diane. EdSpeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2007.

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