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Teacher perceptions of ability grouping practices in middle schools

Robert C Spear, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The purpose of this study is to determine middle school teachers' thoughts on ability grouping. Specifically, this study identifies the reasons that teachers retain (R group) or eliminate (E group) ability grouping practices. Data from thirty-one teachers were categorized through the use of qualitative research methodology. This study focuses on three research questions: (1) What do middle school teachers perceive to be the advantages of ability grouping? (2) What do middle school teachers perceive to be the disadvantages of ability grouping? (3) What alternative grouping practices do middle school teachers utilize to replace ability grouping? Teachers who support ability grouping do not believe what they read and hear about ability grouping. For them, ability grouping may not be the best way to work with young adolescents in schools, but it works reasonably well and they do not believe another way of grouping is worth the effort, or works any better. They may not want to change for a variety of other reasons. Their beliefs may limit thinking or they may not want to invest the time, energy, and thought necessary to alter ability grouping practices. These ideas, coupled with the notion that teaching ability grouped classes is easier and change is difficult, form the basis for their perceived advantages of ability grouping. R group teachers state as many disadvantages of ability grouping as they do advantages. E group teachers are more adamant in their perceptions. They state fewer advantages of ability grouping, and many times more disadvantages. They believe that non-ability grouped methods, coupled with other teaching methodologies, are effective ways to teach middle school students. Sixteen of seventeen teachers interested in eliminating ability grouping had taught in both ability grouped and non-ability grouped classrooms. The opposite was true for the teachers who wished to retain ability grouping. Only one of the fourteen R group teachers had taught both ability grouped and non-ability grouped classes. This suggests that to be supportive of eliminating ability grouping in classrooms, teachers must use both types of instruction. Teachers who have chosen to eliminate ability grouping in their schools and classrooms have bridged the gap between acceptance of the status quo and taking action. Their actions are based upon a strong belief that they can be successful and benefit all students, both academically and socially.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|Elementary education|Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Spear, Robert C, "Teacher perceptions of ability grouping practices in middle schools" (1993). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9329670.