Research Recommendations

(Download in PDF format below)


Forum on Gifted Education, March 22, 2012

Ability Grouping

Argys, L.M., D.I. Rees, D.J. Brewer. 1996. Detracking America’s schools:  Equity at zero cost?  Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, vol. 15, no. 4: 623-645. “[D]etracking schools would create winners and losers (637).” “Although students in lower tracks would realize achievement gains [from detracking], these gains would come at the expense of students in higher level tracks.  Specifically, our estimates indicate that moving from a class composed of below average students to a heterogeneous class leads to an 8.6 percent increase in mathematics scores, and moving from a class composed of above average students to a heterogeneous class leads to an 8.4 percent decrease in scores.  On net, if all students in our sample were placed in heterogeneous classes, average scores in mathematics could be expected to decline by approximately 2 percent (640).” 

Kulik, J.A. 1992. An analysis of the research on ability grouping: Historical and contemporary perspectives (February).

Slavin, R.E. 1987.  Ability Grouping and Student Achievement in elementary schools:  A best-evidence synthesis.  Review of Educational Research, vol. 57, no. 3: 293-336. 

-----. 1990.  Achievement effects of ability grouping in secondary schools:  A best-evidence synthesis.  Review of Educational Research, 60(3): 471-499.

-----. 1993. Ability grouping in the middle grades:  Achievement effects and alternatives.  The Elementary School Journal. 535-552 (May).

            Meta-analyses by Kulik and Slavin continue to be the backbone of research into ability grouping, cited by every subsequent article. While Slavin opposes ability grouping on philosophical grounds, Kulik and Slavin agree that within-class grouping provides small learning gains, cross-grade grouping provides moderate learning gains, and (Kulik only—Slavin did not investigate) ability grouping with curricular acceleration provides large learning gains. They further agree that ability grouping does not favor high-ability students at the expense of low-ability students. Kulik (Slavin did not investigate) finds that ability grouping benefits self-esteem of high- and low-ability learners.  

Peer Effect

Hoxby, C.M. and G Weingarth. 2005. Taking race out of the equation:  School reassignment and the structure of peer effects. This is the leading article on peer effect, and Hoxby is a leading, nationally-recognized, researcher. Their data is explained by the “Boutique and Focus model along with a general monotonicity property that says that all else equal, a higher achieving peer is better than a lower achieving one (27).” 

The Boutique model of peer effects suggests that a student will have higher achievement whenever she is surrounded by peer [sic] with similar characteristics.  This is essentially a model in which students do best when the environment is made to cater to their type.  For instance, in schools, the Boutique model might mean that teachers organize lessons and materials around the learning style of a student if there is a critical mass of his type.

The Focus model of peer effects is closely related to the Boutique model but suggests that peer homogeneity is good for a student’s learning, even if the student himself is not part of the group of homogeneous students.  In this model, diversity is inherently disabling, perhaps because tasks cannot be well targeted to all students’ needs (6-7).

Excellence Gap

Plucker, J.A., N. Burroughs, R. Song 2010.  Mind the (other) gap!  The growing excellence gap in K-12 education. Center for Evaluation & Education Policy. February 4. An achievement gap exists at higher levels of academic achievement, and there has been little progress in reducing the gap since the passage of NCLB.  

Wyner, J.S., J.M. Bridgeland, J.J. DiIulio, Jr. 2009.  Achievement trap:  How America is failing millions of high-achieving students from lower-income families. The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. rev. August. “In elementary and high school, lower-income students neither maintain their status as high achievers nor rise into the ranks of high achievers as frequently as higher-income students….But this highly visible national struggle to reverse poor achievement among low-income students must be accompanied by a concerted effort to promote high achievement within the same population.”

VanTassel-Baska, J. and T. Stambaugh, eds. 2007. Overlooked gems: A national perspective on low-income promising learners: Proceedings from the National Leadership Conference on Low-Income Promising Learners. National Association for Gifted Children and the Center for Gifted Education, College of William & Mary. In working with gifted poor students, “Setting the bar very high is critical, even if the expectations somewhat overwhelm students initially (Olszewski-Kubilius, 46).” “[T]hese students may often be trapped in schools that do not acknowledge the presence of gifted children, that do not offer appropriate level intellectual stimulation, and that do not provide the value-added services necessary to encourage talent development (VanTassel-Baska, 2).

Gifted Education in NCLB Era

Loveless, T., Farkas, S, & Duffett, A. 2008. High-achieving students in the era of NCLB. Washington , DC : Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Data shows that “while the nation’s lowest-achieving youngsters made rapid gains between 2000-2007 [on NAEP tests], the performance of top students was languid.” A national survey of teachers  found that while teachers feel that “all students deserve an equal share of attention,” 81% of teachers say that “academically struggling” students are likely to get their one-on-one attention, while only 5% say “academically advanced” students get this kind of attention.

Xiang Y., Li, Dahlin, M., Cronin, J. Theaker, R., Durant, S. 2011. Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students (September). Thomas B. Fordham Institute.  This longitudinal study of 120,000 students found that “…many students – about two in five – who were high-achieving in early grades had lost that status just four years later.”

Teaching the Gifted and Talented

Hertberg-Davis H. 2009. Myth 7: Differentiation in the Regular Classroom Is Equivalent to Gifted Programs and Is Sufficient: Classroom Teachers Have the Time, the Skill, and the Will to Differentiate Adequately. Gifted Child Quarterly 53: 251-253. For all these reasons—lack of sustained teacher training in the specific philosophy and methods of differentiation, underlying beliefs prevalent in our school culture that gifted students do fine without any adaptations to curriculum, lack of general education teacher training in the needs and nature of gifted students, and the difficulty of differentiating instruction without a great depth of content knowledge—it does not seem that we are yet at a place where differentiation within the regular classroom is a particularly effective method of challenging our most able learners.

Sisk D. 2009. Myth 13: The Regular Classroom Teacher Can “Go It Alone”. Gifted Child Quarterly 53: 269-271. One solution would be to reexamine the idea of the gifted specialist who in a collaborative mode could assist the regular classroom teacher in assessing the gifted student’s interests, learning preferences, and skill level and then help in the planning and development of lessons with depth and complexity. However, one danger is if there aren’t a sufficient number of gifted students in a given regular class, gifted students will once again become “lonely learners” with their social and emotional needs ignored. What is needed is a belief system and school culture that supports the development of the individual student’s giftedness because the regular classroom teacher cannot go it alone with or without differentiation.

Summary of additional research

Reis, S. M.  2008. Research That Supports the Need for and Benefits of Gifted Education.  A comprehensive review of research in GT education, with findings and references to the research that supports these findings.

GTA Administrator,
Mar 20, 2012, 7:04 PM