A new education study shows that lower performing students do better when they are in a class with higher performing students. This study was done in London but I can see how it could be useful in America as well. In my school district we do not have a policy that requires schools to place lower students in one class with higher achieving students in another class, however, it often happens anyway. Students will be grouped according to FCAT (our standardized test) scores and will mostly stay in those groups throughout their academic career unless by some miracle they get a higher score. It has been my experience that students with low scores usually stay low and those with high scores will usually stay high.
In the few instances where I’ve had a student who scored low on FCAT in one of my ‘honors’ classes, the student almost always brings up his score. I saw this happen repeatedly on my eighth grade team. One of our math teachers had the opinion that it was because they feel challenged and that they want to do as well as everyone else so they try harder. Whereas, if they are with people who aren’t doing as well, they don’t feel the need to try as hard. The study also says it doesn’t hurt those higher achieving students to be in with the lower students.
So it seems to be a win-win situation to combine the classes. I do have a slight reservation about this, however. If a group of students is truly gifted I’d rather have them by themselves just so I can set the bar even higher. I suppose I’d like to see truly exceptional students in a group by themselves and then high average, average, low average, and low students mixed in the rest of the classes. I’m not sure if the study took a separate look at ‘gifted’ students or if their higher achieving students were just high average.
What is your experience with mixing ability levels in a classroom? Do you like it or do you prefer to keep them separate? What do you think of the new education study?