My 1st grade teacher was old and irritable. The bun on the back of her head so
tight it made me hurt to look at it. I regularly faked long naps. I
didn't like her. She told my mother, "that boy will never learn to
read."My mother smiled wanly and said, "We'll see."
She spent the summer paying me a nickle for each Dr. Seuss book I read to my
younger sister. Next year in public school, Miss Robinson, a new,
bright and beautiful blonde that a 2nd grade boy would do anything for put me in
the slow reading group. Top of the pecking order were the "Bluebirds."
Next the "Robins." If "Crows" were next, my people were
"Magpies." Due to my mother's summer intervention (and
a young boy's crush on his beautiful blonde teacher), I was tested and
re-tested and moved to the highest reading group. By the end of the year I was
reading three grade levels above the mean for second grade.Grouping
can work if re-testing is used often.Thanks Mom. Thanks Dr. Suess.
(And.. sorry sis.) And thanks Miss Robinson, wherever you are.
I have had this debate numerous times with my sister. She was all-state in
multiple sports. For some reason it is bad to track kids by ability/achievement
in the class room but not on the athletic field.I took algebra in
6th grade with 10 classmates. The next year we advanced to "general
math." We were constantly in trouble as we were bored out of our minds. While placement by achievement is important, so is ability. Many gifted
students fail due to boredom. Fortunately in high school one of the honors
teachers let me take her class even though I did not have the grades to take the
class. One day she called me in and chewed me out for not doing my best. She
was not impressed with my defense that I had an A in her class.Three
years later, I had a bachelor's degree with honors - mostly because a
teacher saw ability and then demanded that I live up to it. Teaching to the
mean is mean.
Let's not get too hung up on the fact that whatever we try to do, there
will be a way to do it wrong and fail. Back in the 50's, our school would
list students by performance; #1 would go to one room for the next year, #2 to
the other (right, only 2 classrooms per grade), ensuring a mix of abilities.
Then the teachers would divide us by performance for instruction. By mixing all
ability levels in each classroom, the teacher's difficult job was made much
harder. Even then, one of my best teachers was Harvey White, an MIT professor
who came to us on 16mm film; we were too poor to afford a DVD player:-) With his
ability and MIT's enormous resources, he taught us a lot about physics.
That was not much fun for our teacher, but today, if some of the students can
get most of their instruction from computers (which can tutor each student
individually at their own pace), and most of the rest can at least get some, the
teacher can focus on giving attention wherever it is most needed, which is
probably just what a lot of teachers would like to do.
I have never forgotten the story told to me by my high school French teacher. He
was a wiseacre kid from Paris, always cutting up in class and fooling around.
Tracking was done at 11 years old, and as the class clown, he was doomed. So, he
was relegated to the vocational track, from which he graduated with an
apprenticeship in carpentry ('with straight D's!) at age 16. While
working in Paris at age 18, he decided to save money and come to the USA. He got
a green card upon arrival (much easier in those days!) and went to work as a
carpenter in Boston. One day, he heard one of his co-workers talking about his
courses at the community college. He was incredulous, and did not understand how
a carpenter was allowed to go to college. When he learned that he could go, too,
he immediately signed up for some things that interested him. Long story short:
he ended up with a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Boston University! He never returned
to France- opportunity would never have found him there. He taught high school
and college and raised 10 children who ALL went to college!
I taught in an SLC school where we grouped students according to their
achievement, and it worked very well. Our own children attended the school and
because they were high in math achievement, they were in high math groups,
though one was in the low level reading group. Sometimes students became lazy
and didn't stay in the group suited to their ability, and sometimes
students worked very hard to move up, and did so. It was a system geared to
helping students do their best.At this school, we did not see much
benefit from standardized testing. I see it as largely a waste of time. There
are many things that could be done to improve school and grouping according to a
student's performance is one of them.
I rarely agree with Carolyn Sharette but her statement about grouping based on
achievement is spot on. Too bad too many parents could care less about what
their students have learned and more about the grade. And too many of our
students only want to do the bare minimum for a grade. Plus, they only want to
show up for the fewest days possible. Learning for the sake and joy of learning
rarely exists in our schools today.
I just want to point out the very important distinction between achievement
grouping and ability grouping.I don't believe children should
be placed in any groups based upon their perceived "ability". Often
times high-potential kids perform far underneath their abilities and it is very
challenging to motivate them.When you place kids in groups based
upon their ACHIEVEMENT - they really work hard to be in the highest group they
I heartily second Redshirt1701. I attended a private school that didn't use
the traditional numbered grades, and grouped kids separately for each subject.
If you excelled at math but struggled with reading (or vice versa), you would be
studying with other kids near your same ability in each subject.
As the article, and some of the comments show, segregating kids based on ability
levels is good. The only thing that is bad that comes out of it is how the
ability levels are perceived.Those that are in the slowest learning
group are perceived as "dumb", while those in the advanced group are
thought of as the "smart" kids. I think that much of this is eliminated
when the segregation is done on a subject by subject basis. You may have a
child that excells at math, and struggles with reading.If the
teachers take the small effort of labeling the groups properly, the stigma will
be minimized. Yes the kids will figure it out, but the example of the teachers
would remedy the problem.
At the age of five, I received burns, that would leave me with scars over 50% of
my body. All the way through school, I was treated as if I was "slow."
Imagine my surprise, when I was called into my Company Commander's, while I
was serving with The Army of the United States of America, in Korea, and being
ask why I did not go to West Point, the prestigious Army College. I told him
that I knew nothing about going to West Point, and he said that my entrance
scores showed I should go. I did apply but was due to my low High School
grades. On the aptitude part of the entrance exam, I knew that I did well,
because when I ask what my scores showed I should go into, I was told passing
was 70 and my lowest score was 78. In 1980, at the age of 35, I entered
college, and received a BA degree, in Human Service, in 1985. I have suffered
from extremely low self-esteem for over 60 year.
There is a significant difference between "tracking" and achievement
grouping for the learning of skills.Tracking is traditionally meant
to judge a student's "ability" (very tricky to do) and place
him/her on a trajectory. Still practiced in many countries, tracking is less
common in US schools.Achievement Grouping is a very effective way to
ensure that students learning new skills (reading, mathematics) can learn at the
maximum pace possible, and not spend time re-learning things they don't
need, while at the same time being given the proper level of challenge. In
elementary schools, achievement levels are very effective when done properly.Students remain in their mainstream classroom for much of their academic
day, but when it comes time for the foundational skills to be learned, they are
divided into groups so they can receive instruction at their precise
instructional level. There is an important distinction between
"ability" grouping and "achievement" grouping. One makes a
judgment about a child's future anticipated performance (like I said,
tricky) and one simply takes them where they are currently performing and
ensures their instruction matches that level. Too bad the article didn't
distinguish between these very different approaches.
In the early 1970's I attended sixth grade in Utah. I had a teacher, that
for his time was very progressive in his teaching methods. He let the class
learn with reading packets, each one at his or her own pace. If one wanted to
progress faster, it was fine. He was there if we needed help. He made school
interesting. Our school was what most would consider lower middle income. He
encouraged us to learn on our own and to make our own future. He was an
excellent role model. When the end of the year testing came around, his class
on average in English tested on an eight grade level. The self confidence I
learned from his class gave me the courage to keep going with my education.
Years later I attended the University of Utah on full scholarship. I will be
eternally grateful for his influence.
What is "mean" is making the obviously able kids sit and twiddle their
thumbs, wasting their ability and denying them the opportunity to excel, while
waiting for others to catch up.
I still say that allowing little girls to start school at age 5 and letting
little boys have another year of growing would solve about 80% of the problems
in our schools.
Can we at least admit that grouping students by year of birth has been a
If there should be any tracking and accountability it should be done on the
system and the incompetent system that permeate the education system. The human brain is not like a Intel chip where intelligence and ability is
built in, and the human development is never predictable or track-able or
traceable. Intelligence cannot be measured by dumbed down adult teachers and
politicians and this grouping is depriving children of the most valuable assets
when growing and developing, each other.Like siblings who help and
educate each other with individual skills, so do the peers in class and class
room setting. Every child and person has a hidden key that can trigger
intelligence, learning, and understanding of their environment and knowledge.
Peers and siblings understand each other more profoundly than any devised
testing or evaluation of adults will ever understand. It is not the
authority of education to label children for any reason, education has one
objective, equal informatory and equal rights and equal opportunity. Leave the
role of god to god.
Tracking is mean unless you give children a chance to change it based on their
desires. Don't secretly track a kid to mediocrity and not going to college
when most of the time it isn't any deficiency of the child that is the
problem.Kid wants to be a pilot. Nope, you wear glasses and your
math scores are low. So... that's it? He's tracked to be
something else? Or should you help the kid achieve his goals? What's the
point of education if it isn't that?