No one was ever fooled…
Remember when you were in elementary school and your teacher grouped the kids into the Little Red House group, the Bluebird group and the Robin group. All the groups were equal—right?! Was there anyone in the class who did not know which groups was the slowest group and which group was the smart kids? Didn’t think so.
Recently a study of over 12,000 students in 2,100 schools found that although kids in the lowest group did improve and by 3rdgrade almost half of the students in the lowest group had moved up to the median group. However, the researcher found that NONE of the children who started kindergarten in the lowest group moved up to the top group by 3rdgrade. There are multiple reasons for this situation. One of which is that teachers do not believe that the students in the lowest group have the ability to be in the highest group for whatever reason. But first some other research.
In a series of three new studies from Switzerland, researchers asked teachers to evaluate student profiles. All of the test scores showed the children to be on the borderline of rigorous academic achievement. The children’s records arbitrarily assigned them to high, median or low income families. Again, it is important to note that these were arbitrary assignments, not really the children's socioeconomic status and the test scores were very similar for all children. Over multiple studies, teachers assigned the lower income children to the lowest reading groups even though their test scores were essentially the same as the arbitrarily assigned higher income kids.
What these studies suggest is that we have been grouping children wrongly all along. Here's a new idea, instead of grouping children based on teacher perceived ability, why not group the children according to the skill set they need to develop. So, you can have children of differing abilities who all need to work on decoding by the use of phonics. Another group could be working on decoding using a whole word or context clue approach. And still another group of kids who are done with decoding, could be working on comprehension. Every eight weeks, students are assessed again and groups are shuffled according to the new information.
In fact, a new approach, Assessment to Instruction (A2I) assesses children in four areas of reading instruction: decoding, fluency, comprehension and usage. Students are grouped for instruction based on particular focus skills rather than overall reading ability. The system does a several things. First, it targets the areas of literacy that children need rather than working on all areas with all kids. Secondly, it mixes up ability levels within the targeted skill areas so children do not see themselves as the low achievers in the room. Lastly, it produces better outcomes. In a recent longitudinal study in California, students who participated in the A2I approach over three years performed significantly higher than the control group that used the standard ability approach to grouping.
Every kid always knows which group is the dumb bunnies; and sadly so do the dumb bunnies. By grouping kids according to skill set and changing the grouping every couple of months, even the smartest kids may not know which group is the dumb bunnies. Not a bad way to confuse children.