Discuss the  Effects of a Multi-Ability Classroom

Discuss the  Effects of a Multi-Ability Classroom

Discuss the  Effects of a Multi-Ability Classroom






The Effects of a Mixed-Ability Classroom on STAR Mathematics Scores



Felisha N. Cleland

University of West Alabama

ED5049621FA1: Tech of Educational Research

Mrs. Annah Rogers, B.A., M.S.

October 4, 2021






Many schools, including Sand Rock High School, track students by ability even before

high school when natural tracking occurs. When this happens, lower-ability students lose the

confidence they need to make progress, and all abilities lose the opportunity to collaborate with

diverse peers. An alternative to this homogenous-ability tracking is to create mixed-ability

classrooms. The purpose of this study is to determine the effect of mixed-ability classes on

students of all ability levels. This proposal intends to investigate whether a transition from

homogenous-ability classrooms to mixed-ability classrooms will improve proficiency on the

STAR test in mathematics for 7th-grade students at Sand Rock High School. This project predicts

that this transition from homogenous-ability classrooms to mixed-ability classrooms will

improve student confidence and allow unique learning opportunities such as students being able

to collaborate with diverse peers, which in turn, will increase proficiency levels on STAR

mathematics scores for these students in 7th grade at Sand Rock High School. Data will be

collected at the beginning of the experiment and then every 9 weeks for an entire school year

with the teachers changing mid-year.














The Effects of a Multi-Ability Classroom on Mathematics Scores

Chapter 1: Research Problem


At many schools in the United States, students are tracked or grouped by ability even

before high school. Tracking is the process of grouping students together by ability. According to

data from a 2017-18 National Teacher and Principal Survey, nearly half of middle schools across

the country group students based on ability (Standing et al., 2021). Some schools allow the

teachers do this within a classroom for differentiation purposes, while other schools group entire

classrooms by ability. Entire classes being grouped by ability means that students are labeled by

their perceived ability level as either above average, average, or below average and divided up

into different classes based on these assignments.

At Sand Rock High School, the above-average classes are generally the smallest in

number, whereas the other classes that contain the students that need the most one-on-one from a

teacher have the larger class sizes. This is only one negative from grouping this way. Far too

often, special education students, except for gifted students, get placed in the average or below

average groups. Also, English Language Learner (ELL) students, other minority students, and

low socioeconomic status students, and are too often disproportionately placed in the average or

below average groups (Childhood Education, 2014). This type of grouping is hazardous for all

levels of ability in that each group of students, once tracked, tend to stay with that same group

until graduation, with very limited movement between groups (Harklau, 1994). This deprives all

students of the ability to collaborate with diverse peers. It also puts the lower ability students in a

classroom where the curriculum typically gets watered down due to decreased expectations by

the teacher for that class (Losen, 1999).




It has also been shown that grouping by ability early on negatively impacts students

psychologically. In a case study of 100 low-ability students in three schools, the students were

asked about their perceptions of their ability to learn. Those students overwhelmingly responded

with emotional words like “shame”, “upset”, and “inferiority” (McGillicuddy & Devine, 2020).

Additionally, many high achieving countries use minimal ability grouping as compared to the

United States.

Statement of the Research Problem

Despite the expansive research that shows the harmful effect on students in lower tracks

and shows no significant advantages for higher-tracked students, homogenous-ability classrooms

continue to be a widely used practice in American schools (Childhood Education, 2014). One

reason for the continued use is the fact that many teachers find that not grouping by ability is

difficult to do (Ambreen & Conteh, 2021). It has also been shown that politically vocal parents

of the would-be higher-tracked students, who are disproportionately likely to be white and well-

educated, stand in opposition to moving away from the status quo of homogeneous ability

grouped classrooms (Childhood Education, 2014). Sand Rock High School is no different in

terms of parents wanting to keep the status quo and keep their students in the higher ability

grouped, nor in the fact that many teachers are fearful of the required work needed to maintain a

successful classroom that is not grouped by ability.

Regardless of the above-mentioned roadblocks to change, data from STAR scores at

Sand Rock High School show that change needs to be made. Proficiency scores on the STAR

test show that the methods used currently at Sand Rock High School are ineffective. Also, as a

teacher at Sand Rock High School, I have seen the negative effects on students who are tracked




before high school. Lower-ability students lose the confidence they need to make progress, and

all abilities lose the opportunity to collaborate with diverse peers.

Teachers across the country have been making changes to their ability grouping practices

to be able to meet the needs of all learners without grouping them by ability (Spear, 1994). The

purpose of this study is to determine the effect of mixed-ability classes on all students and to

determine if there is a link between mixed-ability classrooms and increased student achievement.

It is hypothesized that students placed in mixed-ability classrooms will outperform students who

are separated by ability.

Data Graphic and Discussion

The following table of data shows proficiency and non-proficiency, as a percentage, in

mathematics at each grade level, 1st grade through 8th grade at Sand Rock High School for the

2020-2021 school year. This data comes directly from STAR reports. The data shows that there

is a noted drop in proficiency percentages in grades who initiate the participation of the

technique of grouping students by ability, i.e., 4th and 7th grades. It is also interesting to note that

beginning in 4th grade, more students are non-proficient than are proficient. Prior to this, the

pattern is reversed. This shows that after tracking begins, proficiency rates drop.











STAR Data (End-Of-Year) FY21

GRADE Students Proficient on


Student NOT Proficient on


1st 78 22

2nd 69 31

3rd 63 37

4th 43 57

5th 48 52

6th 55 45

7th 32 68

8th 35 65


Impact on Student Achievement

According to research and personal experience, there are many reasons as to why a

mixed-ability classroom would be preferable to a homogeneous-ability classroom for all students

involved. The main topic of opposition to the previous statement pertains to the high-ability

students in mixed-ability classrooms. Many educators claim that their desire to not have mixed-

ability classrooms is that these high-ability students will not make as much progress as they

would in a classroom of just other high-ability students. Research shows, however, that even

though high-ability students initially perform slightly better in homogenous-ability classrooms,

the effects are temporary and are diminished in subsequent years (Abadzi, 1985).

Many researchers discourage homogeneous-ability grouping since it heavily limits

opportunities for students of all abilities to be able to “enjoy the cognitive and social benefits of




group work despite sitting in groups for most of the time during their lessons” (Ambreen &

Conteh, 2021). When students are not diversely grouped, they lose the opportunity to have

conversations with peers who likely come from differing backgrounds and may have different

opinions. In a Learner’s Perspective Study in which students from 14 countries were asked to

identify the main event in a lesson from which they learned the most. The most common

response from 13 out of the 14 countries was “something another student said” (Clarke, 2021).

This is an important statement coming from students themselves. This means that without this

interaction between abilities, lower ability students miss having the quality of explanations that

come from their peers. Also, as said in many mathematics classrooms, “If you don’t know it well

enough to explain it, then you don’t really understand it”. This is a skill that the high-ability

students miss as it is unnecessary to try to teach another person how to do a skill or how to

understand a concept if everyone around them is learning as fast as they are.

Research Methodology

The experimental research plan involves creating three classes of 7th-grade students at

Sand Rock High School. One class will be selected by random sampling to create the mixed-

ability class. The sample chosen was because the 7th-grade year was shown to have a large

decrease in proficiency levels on the STAR test from the previous year. It was also chosen as the

sample since my position as the math department chair for Sand Rock High School will enable

me to monitor the validity of the experiment without directly affecting it as I do not teach 7th-

grade. The sampling technique is stratified random to ensure the correct proportions of different

ability ranges be included in the mixed-ability class. The mixed-ability class is pulled first from

each ability grouping randomly. Then remaining students will be divided equally down the

middle of performance level on the previous year’s STAR test to ensure two homogeneously




grouped classes by ability. Each student in 7th-grade will be taught by the same teacher for the

first semester and then transition to a different teacher the second semester. This will help to

ensure that any differences in proficiency from class to class will not be related to a difference in

teacher. The two homogenous classes will be taught as normal while the mixed-ability class will

have the ability to incorporate collaboration activities that are otherwise impossible in a

homogenous-ability classroom. Students in all three classes will be randomly assigned numbers

to protect their identities. Informed consent will be obtained from parents and guardians since the

experiment involves minors.

Summary (of Chapter 1)

The data reflects a problem with proficiency levels on the STAR mathematics test at

Sand Rock High School. This study will focus on the current 7th-grade class at this school. By

creating a mixed-ability instead of a homogenous-ability class, it is expected that students in the

mixed-ability classroom will outperform students in the homogenous-ability classroom. This will

be achieved by incorporating mixed-ability grouping best practices, which will, in turn, increase

the confidence level of lower-ability students. It will also provide valuable collaboration

activities among for ability levels.

Chapter 2: Literature Review


The majority consensus in educational literature suggests that ability grouping is harmful

to students. This is especially true for groups such as ELL students and minorities, that get

disproportionally placed into the low-ability classes. Unfortunately, socioeconomic status is also

a predictor of track assignment in public schools (Epple et al., 2002). In addition, the literature

suggests that regardless of how students are grouped by ability, achievement gaps are evident




between the tracks (Chmielewski, 2014). This indicates that no matter how homogeneous ability

grouping was attempted, results were the same. Even for high-ability students, it has been shown

to only contribute temporarily to the success of those students. Educational literature about

ability grouping agrees on the wide range of benefits of mixed-ability grouping to include both

psychological, social, and academic advantages.

Best Practices for Increasing Proficiency

The use of best practices in a mixed-ability classroom is vital to maximize the learning

opportunities for all students. It is important for the teacher to transition from teacher-centered to

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