However, homogeneous-grouped classes of high-achieving sophomores and seniors in advanced classes exhibited greater achievement in both mathematics and English. No significant differences were found beyond these results. Regarding the effects of ability grouping on within-class achievement, Sorenson and Hallinan's study (1985) found that grouping increases inequality of achievement. Briefly, considering their study at the difference in reading achievement between within-class grouped students and heterogeneous classrooms for fourth through seventh graders from North California, their primary result concerning achievement for within-class grouping was that high-ability groups attained a higher achievement than low-ability groups. These results were bases primarily on data from elementary schools and may not directly apply to secondary students, but this study has been included in this research paper to add insight to the subject of homogeneous vs. heterogeneous effects on achievement.
Testing the effects on the differences between mathematics achievements of within-class ability grouping, heterogeneous and cooperative-learning grouped classrooms, Slavin and Karweit (1984) conducted two experiments. The first included fourth through sixth graders from integrated, urban, untracked schools in which the teachers were given appropriate training. The second experiment included third through fifth grade students from rural, mostly white, tracked schools with no specific teacher training. The subjects in these experiments were called untreated, control classes. The reason for conducting both experiments was to be able to generalize the results of their study to different school situations and locations. In the heterogeneous classes the teachers were trained to emphasize a high ratio of active teaching to seatwork. Mathematics was taught in context of meaning, not in isolation and there were frequent questions and feedback. In these classes, teachers taught at a rapid pace and strived to increase student time on task. In the within-class ability-grouped classes, teachers were trained to teach with the same concepts as described in the heterogeneous classes, but were instructed to differentiate their pace and materials for the two groups. In the cooperative learning classes, students worked in heterogeneous learning teams of four or five members. They worked on individualized mathematics materials at their own levels and pace, and the team members helped one another with any problems.
Slavin and Karweit (1984) found that the results were similar for both experiments. Cooperative learning groups and within-class ability groups increased computational skills significantly more than in heterogeneous classes that had no grouping. There was a similarity in achievement effects when using the cooperative learning and within-class grouping treatments. This study showed that grouping third to sixth grade students in some way is beneficial to achievement when compared with no grouping at all. Again, this study focused on elementary school but did offer cooperative learning as an alternative to the traditional use of either homogeneous or heterogeneous classrooms. There are other researchers who also conducted studies on this topic whose findings are summarised as follows. A meta-analysis (1990), conducted by Goldring, on the differences in achievement of gifted students between homogeneous and heterogeneous classes included studies spanning grades three through twelve. Goldring found that the higher the grade level, the more gifted students benefited from specialized or homogeneous classes. Teacher training for gifted programs directly affected student achievement. Students in special classes, whose teachers had received special training to teach gifted students, achieved more than gifted students in heterogeneous classes as compared to students in gifted classes whose teachers were not specially trained (Goldring, 1990).
Seemingly conflicting results are found in the following three studies. Kulik and Kulik's (1987) meta-analysis included many older studies dating back to the 1920's, and they too support Goldring's findings that homogeneous grouping of gifted students increased their achievement. Looking beyond gifted students in general, Slavin conducted a synthesis of twenty-nine studies from the years 1927-1986. He found that between-class ability groups, dominant in secondary schools had little or no effect on achievement. He further said that different forms of grouping were equally ineffective (Slavin, 1990). Gamoran and Berends (1987) too studied the effects of ability grouping on secondary school and found quite the opposite. They found that ability grouping and tracking did indeed affect student achievement and that the differences between achievements may have resulted from variations in student academic experiences.
Allan's critique (1991) of the inconsistencies between Kulik and Kulik's (1987) and Slavin's (1990) findings advises wariness in interpreting the reviews about ability grouping and the gifted. In both studies, achievement was measured by the use of standardized test scores. Scores of gifted students are usually high and approach a maximum possible score. As they come closer to the maximum, it is difficult for these gifted students, measured in this way, to show significant academic improvement as they already represent the upper echelon of achievement. This consequence may help to account for the differences in results of studies which examine gifted vs. regularly-placed students. Another problem with the use of standardized tests was that they did not necessarily evaluate what teachers were teaching. Allan recommended the use of teacher-made tests when comparing student progress in homogeneous vs. heterogeneous classes. Slavin included studies that used teacher-made tests, but there was a problem with his selection process. He only included studies when the teacher-made tests were designed to assess objectives taught in all classes. Generally, objectives will vary among the three ability groups of high, average, and low and the only tests that would meet Slavin's criteria would be those that tested for minimal objectives. Again, this will not successfully demonstrate achievement gains for average and high ability classes.
Allan stressed that the most harmful aspect of the homogeneous vs. heterogeneous controversy is the misrepresentations of researchers' findings, especially Slavin's. some writers may look at Slavin's results and misinterpret them to support their own beliefs. An equally damaging example is that some school systems used Slavin's findings to make decisions on gifted or special education programs. In reality, Slavin did not include either group in his study. In examination of achievement, not only should the effects of ability grouping be considered but also how schools structure their tracking practices. Different types of tracking systems do have different effects on student achievement. What makes a tracking practice differ from school to school is the extent of emphasis a system places on selectivity, inclusiveness, scope, and electivity. A tracking system which exhibited a high degree of selectivity or high levels of homogeneity, the larger were the differences in achievement between each track.
In reviewing the studies examining the effects of tracking on secondary students, it was found that self-concept is a very significant variable. Self-concept can be defined as the self-evaluation of a student's abilities in comparison to his or her other classmates. Student self-concept depends on their comfort and deftness with social comparison processes. Self-concept not only reflects how students rate their abilities by social comparison to other classmates, but it also includes their self-esteem, the way the feel about themselves. Ability grouping and tracking practices have a strong effect on self-concept as the level or group a student is placed affects the variables with which he or she may gauge his or her own performance and ability. For secondary students, their self-concept does relate to their group placement. In homogeneous systems, high-ability students rate high levels of self-concept, while the low-ability students exhibited lower levels of self-concept (Byrne, 1988; Reuman, 1983; Spenser & Allen, 1988). A study following sophomores to their senior year found that their self-concept remains constant for academic tracks (high-ability students) and regular tracks (average-ability students), but self-concept declines for the vocational-tracked student (low-ability) (Vanfossen, Jones & Spade, 1987). In heterogeneous classes of English and Social studies, secondary students experience higher degrees of self-concept and self-esteem. Compared to the homogeneous classes, teachers, who in this study were teaching to mixed-ability groups for the first time, perceived elevated levels of self-concept and self-esteem from their average and lower students (Poppish et al., 1990).
Low tracked students in eleventh and twelfth grade academic classes frequently compared their abilities to the students in high tracks and the low-track students did see themselves as less capable (Byrne, 1991; Reuman, 1983; Vanfossen et al., 1987). However, in general curriculum classes, the low-tracked students used social comparison processes less and placed less emphasis on academic skills. In these classes, it was found that knowledge was not as important as popularity with peers (Byrne, 1991). Social comparison processes are an important mediator of the relationship between ability grouping and self-concept. In a study of ninth-grade mathematics classes, within-class grouping for high and average groups positively affects the self-evaluation for those students because of the way they compare themselves to the ability of the other students in their class. The low-ability group demonstrated lower levels of self-concept as they saw that their mathematics abilities did not equal the other groups in the classroom. The high-ability students compared themselves to students who were less mathematically capable and rated their own abilities high (Reuman, 1983).
In contrast, the self-concept for between-class grouped students related to the…