To Group or Not to Group … That Is No Longer the Question!

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.


  1. What she said...

    (Particularly loved the comment about putting regular ed kids in special ed classrooms--oh the outcry that would ensue!)

  2. I agree wholeheartedly, but HOW does one get their school system to jump on board with this? I couldn't even get my son's school to guarantee not to split him up from his gifted friend when they moved up to second grade this year. Guess what? They split them up!

  3. Great post! These are some arguments that all parents of gifted need to have in their back pocket as they head into the principal's office to advocate for a little accommodation.

  4. Amen! I've been saying this for years. The studies on homogeneous grouping show there is benefit to the low and middle students but it doesn't benefit the high end students. It is another case of sacrificing our best and brightest. It doesn't help that legislation such as NCLB only has schools focused on getting all students to meet a fairly low bar and doesn't care if individuals are meeting their potential or not. Schools have little incentive to truly meet the needs of gifted students and most of the resources today are going towards trying to drag the lowest kids across that bar kicking and screaming. Meanwhile our gifted kids are putting their energies towards constructing the stealthiest paper spit-wad launcher.


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