Saturday, April 21, 2012

Creativity and Curiosity: My Thoughts - Special Post #12A

Last week in another USA education class, we lightly touched on the pros of ability-grouping classes. Our professor commented, "That is too a radical idea for the current administrators of public education." That woke up my curiosity streak. What exactly is ability-grouping class, and why does it scare the system? When someone says something is too radical, that generally means that something is too scary for someone (or a bunch of someones). So I went looking. Here is what I found on ability grouping. Grouping students according to their "perceived" capability is already being administered in elementary schools, particularly in reading and math classes. Through assessment tests, a teacher can place her students into smaller groups broken down by below level, at level, and above level. Using progress-monitoring tests, the teacher can advance the students in each group until ideally all of them are above level by the end of the school year. This is known as homogeneous ability grouping.

The radical aspect is to create heterogeneous ability grouping, mixing ages, and relying only on ability to match students up with the best classes. In other words, throw out the vocation/college tracks and place students where they can get the best education. For example, if a student is above level in English, but below level in Algebra, then he/she would go to Honors English and Remedial Algebra. Carried further out, students would be taught their subjects as supports for one another instead of in isolation. Unfortunately, some big guns are against the idea like the National Education Association, The National Governor's Association, the College Board, and the American Civil Liberties Union, which peaks my interest as to why the governor's association and the ACLU would even care. Surveys indicate parental support is high, and teachers are a mixed group. Most of the objection centers on the narrow focus of assessment testing, and teacher quality for the low achievers.

Once I felt pretty confident I understood the basic concepts of ability grouping, I hunted up a few teachers discussing the advantages and disadvantages. It appears to be highly successful for increasing reading fluency and comprehension. I immediately thought of a sort of educational Prezi with the student at the center, and each line leading to a subject interacting with the other. I think it has tremendous application and would change our schools. In this atmosphere, curiosity and creativity would thrive.

This is a small demonstration of where curiosity can take you. And creativity can make it visually interesting (or at least I hope so).

Right now I think I will go try to find out what the ACLU has against heterogeneous ability group teaching!

BTW I found Elli through Google+, and left an comment about her article on the site.

I did find out why the ACLU was strongly opposed to ability grouping. I cannot say I agree, but I will say it is something that should be looked at and resolved. It is their collective opinion that low achieving students would be taught by teachers with low expectations, actually keeping the students from moving forward or even at level. It is also felt that due to the cultural bias in IQ testing, the low achievers would be disproportional African-American and/or Hispanic. I say we should address those concerns and prove them groundless.


  1. Add a comment telling us what you find out about the ACLU's objection. I would guess that it stems from a confusion about equal opportunity and equal achievement. I will never achieve equal ability in football (or music or art) whether I have equal opportunities or not. Judging opportunity by looking at achievements is nutty but widespread.

  2. Do you know where this cartoon came from? creator?