Grouping arrangements that increase student achievement

Many administrators do not support special grouping plans because they see them as complex, difficult to implement and not necessarily helpful for children, reports John H. Holloway, Project Director, Educational Testing Service, Princeton, New Jersey. Holloway recently reviewed the research on various grouping schemes and their effects on academic achievement. In a study of multiage classrooms, researchers found consistently positive effects on achievement for students with an age range of about three years.

The average effect on achievement in multiage classes was +0.50, which represents a significant positive correlation between multiage classes and achievement. In one study, high-IQ third-graders who spent three years in a multiage program showed an even larger effect (+0.91) in their reading achievement compared to their peers in single-grade classrooms.

In general, effects on social skills and behavior were not significant, although the effect was in the positive direction. These results show a clear academic advantage for multiage grouping and no negative social or emotional effects.

In contrast to the positive effects of multiage grouping, the overall achievement effect of homogeneous grouping (classes arranged by achievement level) was essentially zero at all grade levels from elementary through high school.

An analysis of results by achievement level showed that gifted students performed better in some areas when they attended separate classes, while below-average students achieved less when separated.

Average and below-average students of all races achieve greater academic success in more rigorous academic environments. In fact, mid-range minority students performed as well as or better than white students in a curriculum that retracted general students into a college-preparatory curriculum.

Researchers also have studied the effects of teaching several small groups within a classroom. In settings where teachers provided explanations to a whole class and then had students work together in small groups, researchers found modest but significantly positive effects on student learning.

After controlling for levels of teacher training, researchers found that small-group instruction was rewarding for all students, but more beneficial for high-ability students and elementary rather than high-school students.

Holloway reports that although many principals are reluctant to support special grouping practices that they view as complex and perhaps challenging for teachers to implement, they become more supportive of such plans when they openly discuss them with teachers. He concludes that these discussions are crucial, since principals are key agents of change and grouping arrangements can bring about significant increases in student achievement.

“Grouping Students for Increased Achievement”, Educational Leadership. Volume 59, Number 3, November 2001 Pp. 84-85.

Published in ERN, December 2001/January 2002, Volume 15, Number 1.

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