Elimination of "Ability Grouping" Leads to Increased Student Achievement
December 14, 2009

Research shows benefits of challenging all students with high-level classes

Contact: Teri Battaglieri – (517) 203-2940;
Carol Corbett Burris – (516) 599-0839;
Kevin Welner – (303) 492-8370;

EAST LANSING, Mi., December 14, 2009 – Students will achieve what you expect of them. That's what a new policy brief on "ability grouping" shows in a groundbreaking analysis of three case studies. In each, schools saw significant strides in student achievement by eliminating tracks, which pigeonholed certain students into less challenging classes. Researchers have long denounced the practice of "ability grouping," but until recently, little research had documented the elements of successful reform.

Authored by Dr. Carol Corbett Burris and Professor Kevin Welner and released today by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, the brief draws on three case studies: a school (a San Diego charter), a school district (in Long Island, NY), and a nation (Finland) that have promoted high levels of student achievement by abolishing curricular stratification. The brief also provides concrete recommendations for reform, followed by model statutory language to implement the report's recommendations, written by attorney Jennifer Weiser Bezoza, the Director of Legal and Policy Analysis at Children's Voices.

"The educational leaders described in this brief rejected curricular stratification because it has been shown to exacerbate the societal or natural disadvantages suffered by many children," Burris and Welner say. "These leaders realized that when students who experience difficulty are provided with an inferior curriculum, they are certain to fall farther behind. In contrast, the high-quality heterogeneously grouped schools they created give all students access to the best curriculum and an academic support system that helps ensure that they take advantage of it. These schools hold clear lessons for leaders of other schools, where students are still stratified into tracks. Detracking provides a realistic and proven pathway to academic excellence grounded in true equity."

Burris and Welner recommend a clear process for the phasing out of curricular stratification from grades K through 10, beginning with the lowest track and granting meaningful access to Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses to all students throughout the reform process. They also describe the supports needed for schools, educators, and students as they create non-tracked schools. The recommendations are spelled out in specific model legislative provisions.

Find the brief, "Universal Access to a Quality Education: Research and Recommendations for the Elimination of Curricular Stratification" on the web at:


The mission of the Great Lakes Center is to improve public education for all students in the Great Lakes region through the support and dissemination of high quality, academically sound research on education policy and practices.

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