NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Grouping Students by Ability

June 9, 2014

According to Bruce Sacerdote, professor of economics at Dartmouth College, grouping students by their abilities produces positive results.

Empirical data has tended to show that students gain when they are grouped according to their skill level:

  • Last year, Sacerdote and two fellow economists analyzed students at the U.S. Air Force Academy. They found that the students largely benefited from their peers, but those benefits disappeared when cadets of the highest and lowest abilities were grouped together.
  • In a 2009 paper, Sacerdote tracked Hurricane Katrina refugees across different schools, concluding that students with high abilities benefited the most from high-ability peers.
  • Examining primary schools in Kenya, another study found that all students -- not just the best learners -- benefited when they were grouped into different classrooms according to their abilities.
  • Analyzing data from one North Carolina county, researchers Caroline Hoxby and Gretchen Weingarth determined again that students benefited when they were surrounded with students of similar abilities.

The benefits of ability grouping, not just for the talented students but for all students, indicate that eliminating gifted and talented programs could have serious, negative consequences for bright students from low income families. Unfortunately, New York City's gifted programs have received criticism lately, and the city's Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina has downplayed their significance. These programs should stay open so that students can attend schools most tailored to their needs.

Source: Bruce Sacerdote, "Tracking Students By Ability Produces Results," New York Times, June 3, 2014.  


Browse more articles on Education Issues