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NASP Position Statement on Ability Grouping
National Association of School Psychologists
Position Statement on Ability Grouping
To ensure educational equity and excellence for all Americaís youth, NASP supports the creation of inclusive classrooms that are based on the belief that all students can learn-a core value of all schools in a democracy. NASP believes that tracking, or whole class ability grouping, is not consistent with that core value. Extensive research on ability grouping has documented the following negative effects:
Students with lower ability achieve less in lower track classes than in mixed ability classes.
Students with higher ability do not achieve more in tracked classes than in mixed ability classes.
Placing students with lower ability in tracked classrooms reduces self-esteem, with a particularly negative effect on studentsí sense of their own academic competence.
Tracking students reduces the likelihood that students placed in lower track classes will choose college preparatory courses.
Tracking students reduces opportunities to develop relationships among students from other racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups and has a negative effect on race relations.
The placement decision concerning ability grouping is often made very early in a studentís school career, is often based on questionable data, and is enduring.
NASP believes that grouping students heterogeneously offers advantages unavailable in schools that track. When implemented appropriately, heterogeneous grouping:
gives all students equal access to an enriched curriculum and the highest quality instruction schools have to offer;
avoids labeling and stigmatizing students with lower ability;
promotes higher expectations for student achievement;
reduces inschool segregation based on socioeconomic status, race, gender or ethnicity, or disability;
encourages teachers to accommodate individual differences in studentsí instructional and social needs;
enables students to learn from their peers, including students whose background may be very different from their own; and
emphasizes effort more than ability.
NASP recognizes that heterogeneous grouping will not automatically guarantee all students a quality education. "Watering down" the curriculum or "teaching to the middle" will create disadvantages for able students and should be avoided. While NASP believes that all students can benefit from a more challenging curriculum, we also strongly support the development of a curriculum which recognizes and accommodates individual differences in learning styles, abilities, and interests. To be successful, mixed ability grouping must occur within the context of such a curriculum.
NASP also recognizes that heterogeneous classes require instructional and organizational innovations to accommodate a wide range of learners. Such approaches include cooperative learning groups, peer tutors, flexible grouping practices, team teaching, multiage groupings, and instruction in higher order thinking and problemsolving skills. Where teachers do not currently possess competencies to enable them to work effectively with mixed ability classes, a commitment to further training is essential.
NASP believes that "untracking" schools requires careful planning and collaboration among constituent groups, including teachers, administrators, support personnel, students, and parents. Planned change can best take place using a model that includes the following:
a steering committee composed of educators, parents, community members and school board representatives whose task is to study grouping practices and make policy recommendations to the school board;
local self-study to assess the impact of grouping practices within the school community;
wide dissemination of local and national studies of ability grouping effects;
a board-approved policy statement on grouping for instruction; and
implementation of a strategic plan that allows for a phase-in process and ensures monitoring, trouble-shooting, and evaluation.
NASP believes that school psychologists can play a central role in helping schools develop appropriate alternatives to tracking. School psychologists have access to research, understand good instructional practices that enhance learning for all students, and possess group problem-solving skills that make them valuable as members of steering committees and strategic planning groups and as staff trainers.
School psychologists can contribute to the process of untracking schools by:
making research available to administrators and central office personnel;
leading informal study groups to explore alternative grouping practices;
becoming members of steering committees assembled to study tracking and to develop policy recommendations; and
participating in strategic planning and staff development to prepare for untracking.
NASP recognizes that schools cannot simply eliminate tracking but must develop viable alternatives. Developing alternatives to tracking will take patience and careful planning. In order for schools to live up to the promise of educating all students to become productive citizens of the 21st century, NASP believes these alternatives must be characterized by fairness and challenge, with equity and excellence equally available to all learners.
Adopted by the NASP Delegate Assembly, April 17, 1993
Reapproved by the NASP Delegate Assembly, July 25, 1998
This position statement drew on material from George, P. (1992). How to untrack your school. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
© 2002 National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway, Suite 402, Bethesda MD 20814 - 301-657-0270.
Please note that NASP periodically revises its Position Statements. We encourage you to check the NASP website at www.nasponline.org to ensure that you have the most current version of this Position Statement.