For the educational adventurer, there have been a series of publications by one John Hattie of the University of Melbourne that serve as valuable almanacs for the selection and plotting of paths through the learning landscape.
The most prominent work, ‘Visible Learning’, synthesises the findings of over 800 different explorations into the most effective strategies for guiding ones students to greater peaks of educational excellence. The work, the result of 15 years of research, has received a lot of attention for the implications for the success and/or failure of certain educational practices.
Of particular interest is the strategy known variously as ‘ability grouping’, ‘tracking’ or ‘streaming’. Basically the practise of separating students into classes or groups based on a perception of their abilities. In most schools it manifests as a ‘gifted and talented’ class, or within educational systems even goes as far as ‘selective’ schools that require an entrance exam before permitting enrolment.
Now, in the interests of full disclosure, your good Capitan attended such a selective school which may have coloured my opinions of such a practise, however John Hattie’s work provides a numerical assessment of the overall efficacy of such a practise.
In effect size, it is granted a rating of 0.13. Under Hattie’s methodology, 0.5 is equivalent to one grade level (for example, going from a C to a B), so 0.13 is… not a huge variation of academic results.
Moreover, Hattie ranks this practise as 131 in terms of efficacy in the domain of teaching practices and school behaviours that have a positive impact on learning.
That means that, from the perspective of the single most comprehensive review of academic study into educational practices, there are 130 other things that are more effective that schools and educational systems can be doing to assist educational outcomes BEFORE separating students into schools, classes or groups based on their abilities.
When you look down the list there are many strategies that are seldom to be found in many a school or system, and yet we seem happy to accept an approach that jumps to 131 on a fairly comprehensive list and say that we are somehow serving the needs of our students.
More on this as I work my way through Hattie’s texts again in detail, but for the educational adventurer, it certainly gives pause for thought before using academic grades to decide on class lists!