Ability Grouping and Tracking in Schools: Advantages and Disadvantages

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  • 0:05 Sorting Students
  • 1:05 Ability Grouping
  • 2:23 Tracking
  • 4:04 Advantages of Tracking
  • 5:33 Disadvantages of Tracking
  • 7:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Valerie Houghton, Ph.D.

Valerie holds a Ph.D. in Health Psychology.

In this lesson we will discuss within class grouping and between class grouping. In addition, we will review the pros and cons of between class grouping, also known as tracking.

Sorting Students

The use of ability grouping in schools is a highly-debated, controversial issue because it is unclear whether ability grouping helps or harms student achievement. Although the name 'ability grouping' is applied to both within class grouping and between class grouping (also known as tracking), the two types of groups are not synonymous. For the sake of clarity, within class grouping will be referred to simply as ability grouping, and between class grouping will be referred to as tracking.

The most significant difference between ability groups and tracking is that an assignment to an ability group can be changed and is usually not recorded into the student's transcripts. However, tracking enrolls a student into a sequence of curriculum, which is not easily changed and is recorded into their transcripts. In this lesson, we will discuss ability groups and tracking. In addition, we will review the pros and cons of tracking students.

Ability Grouping

Ability grouping is where students are placed into small groups within a single classroom based upon their performance level.

Ability grouping is based upon the subject matter, and the groups can be changed from one year to the next. For example, in second grade, a student was in the average math ability group and the advanced reading group. The following year, in third grade, this same student was in above-average math ability group and an average reading group.

Although ability grouping can be used for all subjects, reading and math seem to be the subjects for which teachers typically use ability grouping the most. For example, during reading time, students of advanced reading ability are grouped together and are given a challenging reading assignment, students of average reading ability are grouped together and are given a less challenging reading assignment, and students of below-average reading ability are grouped together and are given an even less challenging reading assignment.

During the math lesson, for example, a teacher places students who need to review the basic concepts before proceeding into one group, places students who understand the concept into another group, and finally, places students who need a more challenging assignment into a third group.

A possible track for an above average student
Sample Above Average Track

Tracking

Tracking is segregating students into different classrooms based upon their academic ability.

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