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What is "ability grouping?"   |   Title VI* requires evaluation of ability grouping practices

What is "ability grouping?"
Mpls issues list
Subj:      [Mpls] What is "ability grouping?"
Date:     9/28/2004 3:16:15 PM Central Daylight Time

In a message dated 9/25/2004 7:42:46 PM Central Daylight Time, Mark Snyder writes:

<<  I think I'm gonna have to side with Dan McGuire's take on this...if there's any grouping going on, it's more likely due to performance than ability.
Which makes sense for the reasons Mark Anderson outlined. >>

The practice of placing students in classes where higher or lower order knowledge and skills are taught based on "performance," i.e., a demonstration of what a student knows and can do, is called "ability-grouping" by the federal agency that monitors compliance with rules about ability-grouping: the Office of Civil Rights, US Department of Education. According to a report by the US Commission on Civil Rights,

"Although the educational justification of a practice is determined on a case-by-case basis, the Federal courts and OCR [Office of Civil Rights] have relied on three general conditions, in various forms and combinations, to determine whether an ability-grouping practice is educationally justified. First, students should be grouped in specific subjects based on their achievement or ability in those subjects, rather than placed in a single ability group for the entire school day [See Footnote 221] As the fifth circuit stated, "We agree that, just as job requirements must adequately measure characteristics related to job performance in the employment context, the criteria by which students are assigned to a specific class must adequately measure the students ability in that subject." [775 F.2d at 1419] Second, the students should be reevaluated or retested regularly to determine if their initial placement was accurate and if they are progressing in these subjects. Moreover, reevaluation and retesting is important for ensuring that there is an opportunity for movement and advancement among ability groups. [see footnote 223] Third, the grouping practice itself should be evaluated to determine if it succeeds in meeting the school's stated purpose for using it. This evaluation also should include evidence demonstrating that the quality of education received by students in lower groups is sufficient. [see footnote 224] An educationally justified ability grouping practice may still violate title VI if there is an "equally effective" alternative educational practice that would result in less underrepresentation of minority students in advanced ability level groups or courses, or less overrepresentation in low level groups." [footnote 225] -Equal Educational Opportunity and Nondiscrimination for Minority Students: Federal Enforcement of Title VI in Ability Grouping practices, A Report of the US Commission on Civil Rights, September 1999, pages 62, "OCR's Enforcement Activities," subtitle "Title VI compliance Standards."

221 - See, e.g, Quarles v. Oxford Mun. Separate Sch. Dist., 868 F.2d 750, 754 (5th cir. 1989). OCR, Draft "Investigative Plan," page 8.

223- 775 F.2d at 1420 ("The reliability of the local defendants' grouping criteria is also supported by the evidence showing improvement in student scores and mobility between achievement groups") 868 F2.d at 754-55 (Further, expert testimony established that Oxford's students are not locked into place, or tracked, in the grouping system. Oxford's achievement grouping plan provides several opportunities for movement among achievement levels during the school year")

224- [775 F2d at 1419("The record discloses that such grouping permits more resources to be routed to lower achieving students in the form of lower pupil-teacher ratios and additional instructions materials. There is also evidence that ability grouping results in improved class manageability, student and teacher comfort and student motivation.)

225- OCR, Draft "Ability Grouping Investigative Procedures Guidance," pp. 6, 8.

-Doug Mann, King Field
write-in "Doug Mann" for school board