Copyright 2002 Scottish Media Newspapers Limited
The Herald (Glasgow)
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."