Leveled classes OR mixed abilities?

Discussion in 'General Education' started by nstructor, May 23, 2019.

  1. FourSquare

    FourSquare Fanatic

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    I don’t think our practices can be divorced from the society on which they are built. School does not happen in a vacuum. It’s an institution like anything else. I am just constantly trying to think if I am contributing to inequity with my practice or helping to break down inequity. (Which anyone can do regardless of background.) In my experience, tracking has only contributed to inequity, and I simply don’t think that’s a sacrifice worth making for an academic challenge that can be provided through differentiation.

    I sincerely wish you the best of luck with your scheduling overhaul.
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2019
  2. mathmagic

    mathmagic Enthusiast

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    Interestingly, I've had conversations with parents who specifically chose not to have their child try to test into a gifted program, and instead stick in the classroom. Out of all the students, that student is one of the best socially-adapted and has continued to grow. (Many of those who either tested for gifted programs or are in, have more often had difficulties dealing with anything but perfection or had difficulties with social interactions). The parents continue to do a little enrichment at home, and as a teacher - who always should be differentiating - my conversations with this student and work I provide them is that which will push them further based on where they are at.

    Take reading growth for example: obviously we have wide varieties of levels of kids (some reading a grade or two below, some reading grade levels above), yet students of mine still make the same amount of growth (if not the higher kids making even more at times). Or math: I went into explorations with fourth graders on developing formulas from the ground up (i.e. the formula for area of a parallelogram, or the crazy exploration of the formula for area of an octagon).

    Oh, and this is from the perspective of someone who was "kept to their class" mathematically my first two years to the ire of my parents, and who constantly worked ahead of his peers in math throughout his life. Guess what? I didn't have to be ability grouped for that, and honestly, it might've served me better (at times) to not have flew through so much so quickly.

    (And, as noted previously, the conversation is obviously very different between K-5, 6-8, and 9-12.)
     
  3. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    But how much growth would the higher kids make if they were able to do even more difficult and advanced work for more of the time?
     
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  4. FourSquare

    FourSquare Fanatic

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    Probably more...but at the expense of what other kinds of growth? (And does that even matter? Genuine question.)

    We live in a globalized world. Working with different people is not an extra curricular activity, it’s just how we live. I see mixed ability grouping as an asset and not a hindrance. Why take that away from a group of kids who are literally going to be just fine academically? Are they really going to die if they leave some high school work for....(gasp)...high school, during middle school?
     
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  5. mathmagic

    mathmagic Enthusiast

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    Two elements to this response: first, these kids are usually making anywhere from 1-3 years worth of growth (at least according to the state testing, which is the easiest to use as an indicator, since I don't fully trust the STAR reading test - ha). Secondly, sure, I bet a 5-year-old could learn 3-4 times as much as they do in school by instead being homeschooled and taking out all the extraneous stuff...etc... but I suppose what I'm trying to get across is that those students at the higher levels are not only making massive amounts of growth still (often beyond their peers), but doing so while being able to develop social and life skills that will be vital in their long-term success.

    (this essentially hits what I was trying to say, too: )

    Thought this was an interesting article that somehow I happened upon yesterday:
    https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/08/i-r...one-if-the-biggest-mistakes-parents-make.html
    Not something that's necessarily void from ability grouping, but food for thought.
     
  6. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    Our district has a robust gifted program. Most are very well socially adapted and empathetic to those who do not learn as quickly. Most are involved in sports, music, dance, scouts, or religious groups outside of school where they are active and involved participants. Many also volunteer with special olympics, Best Buddies in HS, and other mentoring type groups.

    There are some who have anxiety due to their perfectionism, some 2E kids, some students with Asperger's, and some who just are plain jerks who would be jerks where ever they are placed.

    The range of social skills is no different in those classes as those in the general population. In fact, many adapt better because they actually have students who they can relate to when it comes to things that interest them rather than having no one who can discuss topics at their level except for the teacher. BTW, they also talk about typical kid topics too. But they have others who can converse at their level of abstraction.

    Now, you may have a very different situation in a small district where you are lucky to have 5 gifted kids per grade. But our gifted kids who are removed from the rest for instruction tend to thrive both socially and academically in school and in their communities.
     
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  7. a2z

    a2z Maven

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  8. Always__Learning

    Always__Learning Comrade

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    Here is an interesting article about one of the biggest Boards in Ontario: https://www.thestar.com/yourtoronto...aming-expand-access-to-specialty-schools.html.

    Interestingly, when ALL students are put in academic in Grade 9 it's amazing how successful they are.

    I don't think we can divorce the discussion around streaming from questions of equity. The whole concept of streaming in North America was basically built on the idea of inequity. I don't think we should stream until Grade 11 but the idea of streaming in Grade 6 is just incomprehensible to me.

    I also would point out that there is a trend when addressing things like equity for people to try to diminish these issues by pointing to personal relationships. For example, in Ontario the Ministry of Education was asked to use the word "transphobic" on a national day against bullying (which she wore pink to represent) and she refused to use it saying the word wasn't in her vocabulary and then went on to talk about friends she had who were gay. Just to be clear, she can have gay friends and still have viewpoints about the LGBTQ community that are not welcoming. Similarly, sometimes people who belong to a group (i.e are recent immigrants will argue against immigration) will argue against the group needs (i.e. I'm female and I didn't need special training on how to lead in male dominated system). In this case, a woman can be successful in a system that is discriminatory against women and support the status quo because it works for her. That doesn't mean the status quo is equitable. These habits of pointing to personal experiences/ backgrounds as justification that the status quo is okay are interesting phenomena but belonging to a group or having friends/relatives that belong to a group doesn't make one's opinion more important in the broader discussion.
     
  9. otterpop

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    I have a question that someone here may know the answer to. I know that GATE and high level are different things, but often the high level kids are identified for GATE (gifted and talented education). It seems odd to me that we put such focus on identifying our SPED students and giving them appropriate services, and yet many schools do not do the same to identify GATE students and give them the appropriate services. I know my school follows that pattern, anyway. We push our high students and talk about differentiating for them, but we have no real GATE program or system to make sure their needs are being met. Are there any laws or federal funding stipulations for identifying and serving GATE students?

    Perhaps this is a bit off topic, but my thought is this: if we could do mixed ability learning with pull out services for GATE students, you'd have a decent blend of benefits from both types of classes. I do know some schools pull out GATE students but even then it seems to be very rarely done - maybe once a month.
     
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  10. mathmagic

    mathmagic Enthusiast

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    That's a good question-- I don't know federal laws, but our school district does have quite a few different levels of services available and does plenty of testing.
     
  11. a2z

    a2z Maven

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  12. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Aficionado

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    Addressing the relevant part of your post (the link at the top), I’ll start off by saying the USA is not Canada. We have more freedoms here and school choice is one of the them. Nearly all of the families that come to my school are fed up with the public school system. I know because I’ve seen the questionnaires of incoming families. And as a part of my new administrative position, I’m required to read them and use them to help us grow as a school.

    Now, in spite of my school’s widespread use of ability grouping (for math classes primarily) we still have a 100% graduation rate and 99% of our students go on to four-year universities. Our students have an average AP score of 4.2 out of 5, the top 100% of our students score an average SAT score of 1468/1600, our standardized test scores routinely fall in the 85th percentile, and we have a diverse student population [50% White and 50% non-white; specifically Asian(10%), Hispanic(15%), Black(20%), Indian(~5%), Native American(<<1%)]. 60% are middle to upper class and 40% are on tuition assistance because their families are a part of the working class. And we receive zero funding from the state — we just discount tuition for those who cannot afford the full price, usually 40-50%. Breaking down the numbers, our tuition is $12,000 per student annually and so working class people only have to pay $4,800-$6,000 a year, which when spread out over 12 months is very affordable — most working-class families just have one spouse pick up a part-time minimum wage job to pay the tuition.

    Here’s the kicker: None of the problems you addressed in the article are relevant or applicable to my school. I think this is for a few reasons:

    We have an incredibly robust, rigorous program that offers a wide range of services, but here’s the thing: We enforce discipline without fail and are not afraid to suspend students, we have no problem failing a student and holding them back even at the protest of the parent (we don’t give students credit for turning in nothing and/or give D’s — if you score less than a 70% for your overall grade, then you get an F in the class — no exceptions). We require that students volunteer and complete no less than twenty service hours per semester and we provide in-school tutoring and after-school programs for students who struggle. Teachers are required to give at least tutoring times per week outside of class to help students. Finally, we are required to allocate a few weeks of each year devoted entirely to test prep and test prep is mandated by administration to be embedded in the course curriculum throughout each course.

    Short story long, I think that ability grouping, when done right, can benefit ALL students. However, it needs to be flexible (students who are advanced in math should be in the advanced math classes, but if they are average in English, for instance, then they should be in the mainstreamed English courses) and allow for movement from the remedial to the more advanced classes when students demonstrate mastery. For example, right now, if a student thinks they are ready to move on, then we will give them the final for the course, say, Algebra 1, and require that they pass with *at least* 90% accuracy. If they can do that for BOTH semester finals, then we will transcript them an A for Algebra 1 and put them Geometry or Geometry Honors depending on the placement test for that, and so on, but not past November in the first semester as they will miss too much of the course. And the tests are very comprehensive and cumulative (they cover all of the state standards, are anywhere from 70-100 questions in length, and have multiple-choice and free response questions).

    With that said, remedial courses — or as we like to say “catch-up courses” — should be presented to students not as lesser courses, but as other. We don’t want to create an atmosphere that they are “the stupid courses,” but rather the courses that teach you the foundations to be successful ultimately. To further demonstrate, we have Calculus, Calculus Honors, and AP Calculus. Some students are not meant to be in the honors or AP class and that’s okay, but they can still learn accelerated math, just at a much slower and less rigorous pace. We even have different tracks for students who want to learn basically all there is about high school math courses and so we have options for that, too!

    This looks like this currently (excluding 6):
    1. Algebra 2 Honors (focuses on word problems mainly)
    2. Trigonometry/Linear Algebra (there are many units on matrices and practical applications of them)
    3. Precalculus Honors with Applications in Physics (emphasis is placed on physics and engineering problems)
    4. AP Calculus BC
    5. Calc 3
    6. Linear Algebra/Differential Equations (coming soon)

    Sorry for the verbose response, but our core belief is that once you can proof that you have a solid foundation, then you can advance, but you MUST show it first. And if you can’t handle it, then you are moved back to the regular core classes.
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2019
  13. Pi-R-Squared

    Pi-R-Squared Groupie

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    When I taught 6th math, all students of all abilities were in the classes. Splitting didn't occur until 7th. I liked having them all together in 6th. Classes should begin splitting in 7th or 8th. Where I teach now, math students aren't split until Alg I or IA. Small school dilemma unfortunately because the abilities differentiate in middle school and higher groups should be separated out by then.
     
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  14. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Aficionado

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    I also like this model. It is fair.
     
  15. Always__Learning

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    I see ability grouping as more of a fluid thing that happens in a classroom and levelled classes are more the traditional concept of streaming. Some provinces stream starting in 7. Some as late as 11. Having experience in several, I see the value in streaming later. I think streaming early is an equity issue. I think there are times where ability grouping is of value and times where it is harmful.

    Here is another article I read recently: https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/...rack-how-one-school-stopped-tracking-students
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2019
  16. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Aficionado

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    I’m confused. I reread through my post and I did not find anything that denigrated or disparaged you in any way. Your interpretation may be different than mine, though. I mentioned my school because that is my experience with ability tracking. I also touched on each of the points brought up in the article because it says that streaming decreases graduation rates (really?) and that it creates, of course, racial inequities (the politically correct answer for anything someone disagrees with these days).

    I don’t think streaming creates an equity issue. Let’s agree to disagree.
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2019
  17. kdmmom5

    kdmmom5 New Member

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    I taught in a private school where 6 th grade was ability grouped, and it was awesome I was able to accomplish so much and do so much enrichment, however the classes were small and there was a lot of parent involvement .
     
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  18. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Aficionado

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    Yep! I work at a large private school and certain parents are more involved than others. I’m used to it, haha!
     
  19. 2ndTimeAround

    2ndTimeAround Phenom

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    I do.
     

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