Sorting students by performance “significantly improves” reading and math scores, concludes a study that analyzed data linked to a cohort of elementary students in Dallas. Sorting helps both high- and low-performing students, though the high achievers showed larger gains.
Tracking went out of fashion a generation ago. Teachers are supposed to “differentiate” instruction for students with varying levels of achievement, English fluency, ability or disability and “learning styles.”
Analysts attempt to account for unobservable ways that schools might sort (say, by student behavior) and ultimately find that three-quarters of the schools organize students along at least one dimension: Nineteen percent by prior math scores, 24 percent by prior reading scores, 28 percent by “gifted” status, 57 percent by LEP (limited English proficiency) status, and 13 percent by special-education status (further, around 40 percent sort by at least two dimensions).
Grouping all students by prior performance would produce a significant gain in reading and math achievement, researchers concluded. However, school leaders also must consider “the impact of homogeneous classes on classroom culture and the importance of flexible grouping (so that students move out of low-level classes after they demonstrate mastery).”