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The Effects of Ability Grouping on Reading Achievement. Oksana Vulchyn Instructor: Dr. Sharon A. O’Connor-Petruso Ed. 702.22 Fall 2008. Table of Contents. 1. Introduction 1 a) Statement of the Problem 3

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the effects of ability grouping on reading achievement

The Effects of Ability Grouping on Reading Achievement

Oksana Vulchyn


Dr. Sharon A. O’Connor-Petruso

Ed. 702.22

Fall 2008

table of contents
Table of Contents

1. Introduction 1

a) Statement of the Problem 3

b) Review of Related Literature 5

c) Statement of the Hypothesis 16

2. Method 17

a) Participants 17

b) Instruments 18

3. References 19


Schools of today are ethnically, culturally, intellectually, and socio-economically diverse. One of the most prominent questions in education in general and reading in particular is how to provide instruction so that it is effective for the education of children of very different abilities.

Although early research argues for homogeneous grouping to meet the needs of individual students, more current research questions ability grouping practices.

introduction continued
Introduction (continued)

Many educators state that ability grouping is a sensible response to the students’ academic diversity, in that it provides an opportunity for the teachers to modify their instructional approaches to the students’ abilities (Lou, Abrami, Spence, Poulsen, Chambers, & d’Appolonia, 1996; Vaughn, Linan-Thompson, Kouzekanani, Bryant, Dickson, & Blozis, 2003; Wilkinson & Townsend, 2000).

The critics of the ability grouping argue that the practice exacerbates inequalities among the students (Oakes, 1992; Elbaum, Moody, & Schumm, 1999; Gamoran, Nystrand, Berends, & LePore, 1995 ).

To what extent does the ability grouping impact the achievement of the students assigned to different groups?

Does the ability grouping cause inequalities in the opportunities for the students assigned to different groups?

Educators, theorists, philosophers, researches, and evaluators have put a great deal of effort into studies trying to answer these questions.

statement of the problem
Statement of the Problem

Within-class homogeneous grouping is the practice for reading instruction that engenders considerable controversy (Chorzempa & Graham, 2006; Macintyre & Ireson, 2002; Saleh et al., 2005; Slavin, 1987). For reading, this practice involves teachers organizing “students into small reading groups according to reading levels as determined by informal assessments, teacher judgment and/or standardized tests” (Schumm, Moody, & Vaughn, 2000, p. 477).

The purpose of the present study is to investigate the effects of within-class ability grouping on reading achievement of the third-grade students.

Ability grouping is one of the most common responses to the problem of providing for student differences. Schools group students in many different ways.

review of the literature
Review of the Literature

"Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action." (Bandura, 1977, p. 22).

“Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people and then inside the child” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 68).

review of the literature continued
Review of the Literature (continued)

Each day, a majority of elementary teachers all over the United States separate their students into a series of small groups to provide instructions that are consistent with the students’ abilities to learn. Many advantages and disadvantages for the ability grouping across diverse educational tasks and outcomes have been identified by the advocates and opponents.

The argument in favor of the ability grouping is that it will allow teachers to adapt instruction to the needs of the diverse population of the students and give them an opportunity to provide more difficult material to the high achievers and more support to the low achievers (Brown, 2000; Lou et al., 1996; Schullery & Schullery, 2006; Vaughn et al., 2003; Wilkinson & Townsend, 2000).

review of the literature continued8
Review of the Literature (continued)

Little evidence supports the claim that grouping by ability produces higher overall achievement than heterogeneous grouping. Most grouping systems at the elementary level fail to raise achievement (Saleh, Lazonder, & De Jong, 2005; Slavin, 1987, 1990).

Arguments opposed to ability grouping focus primarily on the perceived damage to low achievers, who experience social stigmatization, lower academic expectations, and decreased motivation (Elbaum et al., 1999; Oakes, 1992). Moreover, it has been emphasized that because instruction received by the students in the lower ability groups is inferior to the instruction provided to the students in the higher ability groups, this grouping arrangement may cause a widening in the achievement gap (Gamoran et al., 1995; Macintyre & Ireson, 2002).

statement of the hypothesis
Statement of the Hypothesis

Twenty low-ability achieving students will attain high reading test scores in homogeneous instruction at P. S. 205 in Brooklyn, New York.



The sample for this study is selected from the total population of 26 third-grade students at an upper-middle-class, public elementary school in Brooklyn, New York. The population is approximately 50% Caucasian, 25% Asian, 20% Hispanic, 5% African-American. Using a table of random numbers, 20 students are randomly selected and randomly assigned to 2 groups of 10 each.



  • Consent Forms
  • Questionnaires
  • Surveys
  • Tests

Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. New York: General Learning Press.

Boaler, J., Wiliam, D., & Brown, M. (2000, December). Students’ experiences of ability grouping: Disaffection and the construction of failure. British Educational Research Journal, 26(5), 631-648. Retrieved September 10, 2008, from JSTOR database.

Brown, K. J. (2000, January). What kind of text – For whom and when? Textual scaffolding for beginning readers. The Reading Teacher, 53(4), 292-307.

Chorzempa, B. F., & Graham, S. (2006, August). The primary-grade teachers’ use of within-class ability grouping in reading. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(3), 529-541. Retrieved September 9, 2008, from PsycARTICLES database.

Cunningham, P. M., Hall, D. P., & Defee, M. (1998). Nonability-grouped, multilevel instruction: Eight years later. The Reading Teacher, 51(8), 652-664.

Elbaum, B., Moody, S. W., & Schumm, J. S. (1999). Mixed-ability grouping for reading: What students think [Electronic version]. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 14(1), 61-66.

Elbaum, B. E., Schumm, J. S., & Vaughn, S. (1997, May). Urban middle-elementary students’ perceptions of grouping formats for reading instruction. The Elementary School Journal, 97(5), 475-500. Retrieved September 30, 2008, from JSTOR database.

Gamoran, A., Nystrand, M., Berends, M., & LePore, P. C. (1995, Winter). An organizational analysis of the effects of ability grouping. American Educational Research Journal, 32(4), 687-715. Retrieved October 2, 2008, from JSTOR database.

Hodgkinson, H. (2000). Educational demographics: What teachers should know. Educational Leadership, 58(4), 6-11.

Ireson, J., & Hallam, S. (1999, September). Raising standards: Is ability grouping the Answer? Oxford Review of Education, 25(3), 343-358. Retrieved September 9, 2008, from JSTOR database.

Lou, Y., Abrami, P. C., Spence, J. C., Poulsen, C., Chambers, B., & d’Appolonia, S. (1996, Winter). Within-class grouping: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research,66(4), 423-458. Retrieved November 14, 2008, from JSTOR database.

Macintyre, H., & Ireson, J. (2002, April). Within-class ability grouping: Placement of pupils in groups and self-concept. British Educational Research Journal, 28(2), 249-263. Retrieved September 10, 2008, from JSTOR database.

references continued
References (continued)

Mills, R. (1998, June). Grouping students for instruction in middle schools. (Digest No. EDO-PS-98-4). Champaign, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, University of Illinois. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED419631)

Moody, S. W., Vaughn, S., & Schumm, J. S. (1997, November/December). Instructional grouping for reading: Teachers’ view. Remedial and Special Education, 18, 347-356. Retrieved September 10, 2008, from Education database.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2003). Status and trends in the education of Hispanics. Retrieved October 2, 2008, from

Oakes, J. (1992, May). Can tracking research inform practice? Technical, normative, and political considerations. Educational Researcher,21(4), 12-21.

Saleh, M., Lazonder, A. W., & De Jong, T. (2005, March). Effects of within-class ability grouping on social interaction, achievement, and motivation. Instructional Science: An International Journal of Learning and Cognition, 33(2), 105-119. Retrieved October 2, 2008, from ERIC database. (EJ733354).

Schullery, N. M., & Schullery, S. E. (2006, August). Are heterogeneous or homogeneous groups more beneficial to students [Electronic version]. Journal of Management Education, 30(4), 542-556.

Schumm, J. S., Moody, S. W., & Vaughn, S. (2000, September/October). Grouping for reading instruction: Does one size fits all? Journal of Learning Disabilities, 33(5), 477-488.

Slavin, R. E. (1990, Fall). Achievement effects of ability grouping in secondary schools: A best-evidence synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 60(3), 471-499. Retrieved November 5, 2008, from JSTOR database.

Slavin, R. E. (1987). Ability grouping and achievement in elementary schools: A best evidence synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 57(3), 293-336. Retrieved November 15, 2008, from JSTOR database.

Tieso, C. L. (2003, Fall). Ability grouping is not just tracking anymore. Roeper Review, 26(1),29-36.

Vaughn, S., Linan-Thompson, S., Kouzekanani, D., Bryant, P., Dickson, S., & Blozis, S. (2003). Reading instruction grouping for students with reading difficulties. Remedial and Special Education,24(5), 301-315.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: THE MIT Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind and society: The development of higher mental processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wilkinson, I. A. J., & Townsend, M. A. R. (2000, March). From Rata to Rimu: Grouping for instruction in best practice New Zealand classrooms. The Reading Teacher, 53(6),460-471.

Worthy, J., & Hoffman, J. (1996). Critical questions. The Reading Teacher, 49(6), 656-657.