Copyright 2002 Scottish Media Newspapers Limited  
The Herald (Glasgow)

April 10, 2002

US Expert Tells of Streaming Switch


by Elizabeth Buie, Education Editor

America's leading authority on streaming pupils yesterday told a Scottish audience US schools were abandoning ability grouping because research suggests it increases social inequality and lowers standards of achievement.

As The Herald revealed last month, Professor Adam Gamoran of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has found "tracking" - the American term for setting or streaming - succeeds in raising the attainment of all pupils only if specific elements are in place: high teacher expectations, encouraging pupils to join in debate in class, and not assigning weak or inexperienced teachers to low -ability classes. He predicted the current American preference for mixed ability grouping would probably swing back in favour of setting in the future. He said Scottish schools were clearly moving in favour of setting largely because of the political drive to raise standards. Professor Gamoran said both the setting and mixed ability approaches had drawbacks.

He said: "There is no magic solution to this problem of the best way to organise children for instruction.

"Setting and streaming benefit high achievers but typically work out badly for low achievers. If you have divisions, you need to provide challenging instruction for low achievers.

"There is an argument for the best teachers being used for lower ability classes, but there is a lot of resistance to that for two reasons - one of our important goals is maximising the culture of high achievers and it would be seen not to be in our national interest if we serve the social inclusion culture at the expense of an attainment standards culture; and if you are an administrator organising a school system, the last thing you want to do is put weak teachers in with the strongest pupils because they have very active, noisy parents."
updated 04/19/2007 .