Educational theories come and go. It’s a fact of life. We always hope that things are improving, but that is not the case when it comes to grouping students by ability. The dreaded ‘tracking’ misnomer is always drug out by opponents to this policy. But like it or not, ability grouping must be reconsidered. The sooner, the better. It doesn’t have to upset the entire system; just apply it to gifted students and case closed.
Why am I being so flippant about this? Because ability grouping already exists in our schools and society today for lots of other groups and I hear no complaints about them. We ability group athletes. The best players are on the starting line-up and everyone else sits on the bench. Start mediocre players and the fans would go wild! The coach would be gone before the end of the season. We ability group musicians in high school bands and orchestras. Students perform rigorous tests to gain the coveted ‘first chair’.
So, exactly what is ability grouping in relation to gifted education and why should you care? Simply stated it is the grouping and regrouping of students according to their present level of performance. It can reach across the curriculum or be applied to just one subject. It works, gifted students are happier and perform better, and regular ed teachers are free to spend more time with their other students. Win, win, win! Contrary to the popular belief that it fosters elitism, the opposite is actually true. The regular classroom is free of those students who always raise their hands first, always get the A’s, and always seem to be the ‘teacher’s pet’.
And consider this … how many regular ed parents would tolerate their children being placed in special education classes just so ‘those’ kids didn’t feel left out? That is exactly how a gifted student often feels in the regular classroom. And what does this say for ‘appropriate education’? Year after year of being forced to sit in classes covering material they already know. Year after year of being told not to work ahead, pay attention or worse … being told they are wrong when in fact they actually know the material better than the teacher. These students need to work in peer groups, engage in competitive learning situations, and be allowed to work independently.
The outcry of education reformers to stop the emphasis on standardized testing and placing so much value on test scores grows louder every day. This message holds special meaning for the gifted community. Most gifted students ‘top out’ on these tests and they don’t need to prove they’re smart. Why not tap their abilities by developing higher level thinking skills, contemplating solutions for complex problems, and encouraging them to work on global issues?
Do not be fooled by the rhetoric that everyone can achieve at the same level. It doesn’t happen, and it will prove to be more harmful to our society if we continue to turn a blind eye to the needs of our gifted students. These students must be allowed to soar as high as their abilities permit. They are humanity’s best hope for a better tomorrow.