Should we group students based on their academic ability or age?
Many schools and different types of institutions group students in different ways, but traditionally this is done by age. This means that students of a certain age are in a specific grade. For example, fifteen-year-old students are in ninth grade. Another way of grouping students is based on their academic talents and abilities. This method of grouping students is known as “ability grouping” tracking. Ability grouping, also known as or tracking, is the practice of separating the class into small instructional groups (Loveless, 2016). There are two different types of ability grouping: within-class grouping and between-class grouping.
For within-class grouping, students are divided into small groups by the teacher depending on their abilities/ talents and performances for short reading or math assignments. Between-class grouping refers to the school’s practice of dividing students into different classes or courses based on their academic performance (“Research Spotlight on Academic Ability Grouping”).
The third type of grouping students is multi-age grouping; this involves grouping students of different grades into one class. Students of different grades in one class are grouped based on their knowledge levels.
If all education methods are considered available, all have their pros and cons.
Age-based grouping is grouping students in one course based on their age. There are many advantages and disadvantages to using the age-based education system in schools. All the students in a class are of the same age. So all the students are more likely to get comfortable with each other. Teachers may not favor other students of a higher grade over students of a lower grade or vice-versa. On the other hand, placing students of the same age together can lead to a knowledge gap where students with clear concepts have to take easy classes. A research study performed by Jonathan Plucker, a renowned education policy expert and the professor of renowned development at Johns Hopkins University (DeFusco, 2016). Plucker examined both nationwide and state-specific testing data and estimated that 20%-40% of elementary school and middle school students perform at least one grade above than their present grade, and 11%-30% of elementary school and middle school students perform one grade above their current grade in math (DeFusco, 2016). The researchers concluded that the U.S. government wastes billions of dollars after students who already know the subjects that they are studying (DeFusco, 2016).
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Ability grouping makes students more friendly as all the students share the same interests. Teaching a group of students with the same interests makes it very easy for the teacher to schedule the pace of the entire course (Hopkins, 2009). But on the other hand, it also discriminates students based on their race, sex, and other physical structures. NEA (National Education Association) considers that there is discrimination in academic standards depending on economic status, ethnicity, race, or gender. Hence, it should be eliminated. (NEA Resolutions B-16, 1998, 2005).
Composite Class Grouping
Mixed-age, also is known as the composite class grouping, is very similar to age-based grouping, but it allows students of different grades to be in classes of different grades. Laura Barr, owner, and founder of eMerging Educational Consulting (Barr, 2012), did a study about multi-age classrooms and if they are suitable for kids. In her report, she said that students study with the same teacher for two to three years, which helps the teacher and student to be very comfortable with each other (Barr, 2016). Multi-age classrooms help increase team bonding among students of different grades and decrease the chance of bullying (Barr, 2016). Mixed-age grouping allows teachers to teach students of different grades at the same time, which makes it both easier and harder for the teachers. Easier because the teachers can work with students of different grades at the same time.
The mixed-age grouping has many advantages and disadvantages. Mixed-age grouping makes students of different grades feel more friendly together. The availability of a comprehensive curriculum makes the students always busy, giving them no time to think about their peers and evolves a sense of competition among all the students. This type of schooling system is used in many states across the United States. Most of the classes in all those schools have students from different grades in one class.
In conclusion, all these systems, when used, affect the psychosocial environment around the students. Basic-age grouping makes the students of the same age compete with each other in a class, but it also makes students study things they are not ready for or already know. Ability-grouping is separating students based on their talents and abilities. Ability-grouping makes students with the same talents study together, but it does not allow the other students to learn and get interested in other topics. It only focuses on enhancing the capabilities of a student in a specific subject, but it does not give him/her the chance to explore the other subjects. Lastly, mixed-age grouping allows students of different grades to work with each other in the same class. Therefore, the different types of groupings depend on the environment, students study in, and teachers prefer.
Barr, L. (2012, February 12). Ask an Expert: Are multi-age groupings good for kids? Retrieved October 2, 2018, from http://emergingconsulting.com/about/laura-ba r
Barr, L. (2016, April 21). Ask an Expert: Are multi-age groupings good for kids? Retrieved October 2, 2018, from https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2012/02/14/ask-an-expert-are-multi-age-groupings-good-forkids/
DeFusco, D. (2016, August 16). Age-based curriculum in United States leaves millions of students unchallenged. Retrieved October 2, 2018, from https://hub.jhu.edu/2016/08/16/students-unchallenged-age-based/
Garelick, B. (2013, March 26). Let’s Go Back to Grouping Students by Ability. Retrieved October 2, 2018, from https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/03/lets-go-back-to-grouping-students-by-abili ty/274362/
Hopkins, G. (2009, February 24). Is Ability Grouping the Way to Go — Or Should It Go Away? Retrieved October 2, 2018, from https://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/admin/admin009.shtml
Research Spotlight on Academic Ability Grouping. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2, 2018, from http://www.nea.org/tools/16899.htm
Sellgren, K. (2017, December 01). Should young children be grouped by ability? – BBC News. Retrieved October 2, 2018, from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-42154013
Yee, V. (2013, June 10). Grouping Students by Ability Regains Favor in Classroom. Retrieved October 2, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/10/education/grouping-students-by-ability-regains-favo r-with-educators.html