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Ability grouping 'can be beneficial to talented students'

27/01/2017 Kelly

A new review of academic evidence has suggested that ability grouping and acceleration can help gifted school students to achieve more.

Carried out by Northwestern University in the US, the research collated 172 empirical studies on the efficacy of ability grouping and 125 studies on acceleration, finding that both approaches yielded measurable benefits in terms of pupil attainment.

Ability grouping refers to the practice of placing students of similar skill and ability levels in the same classes, while acceleration describes the approach of allowing advanced students to move up a year or gain earlier access to advanced classes.

Proponents of these techniques have argued that they make it easier for teachers to match their instructions to the needs of their students, while the pupils themselves benefit from being able to interact with academically comparable peers.

This research - published in the Review of Educational Research - would appear to bear these conclusions out, showing tangible benefits associated with ability grouping, while also indicating that accelerated students performed significantly better than non-accelerated peers of the same age, allowing them to achieve performance levels that could be compared to non-accelerated older students.

According to researchers, both methods are effective means of helping teachers avoid wasting resources on teaching students things they already know, and can bolster attainment levels at relatively little additional cost.

Study co-author Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, director of the centre for talent development at the Northwestern's School of Education and Social Policy, said: "Although acceleration is widely supported by research as an effective strategy for meeting the needs of advanced learners, it's still rarely used, and most schools do not systematically look for students who need it."

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