There have been numerous studies done during the past hundred years on ability grouping. The majority of research has focused on the elementary and secondary levels, with very little done at the post-secondary level of education. Research shows at the K-12 levels that high-achieving students have a higher level of learning when placed in homogeneous (equal-ability) groups. Middle-level and low-achieving students have higher levels of learning when they are taught in heterogeneous (mixed-ability) groups.
This research examined whether there was an impact on student achievement based on their skill grouping at the university level. Students in nine sections (N= 216; approximately 24 students per section, three GTAs in total) of an introductory geology laboratory course were given a Mathematics Proficiency Basic Skills Test (MPBST) at the beginning of the semester. The instrument was co-created by Dr. Iris Totten and the Office of Education, Innovation and Evaluation (OEIE) at Kansas State University. It included three sections: 1) 29 multiple choice mathematic calculations, 2) 23 five-point Likert-scale self-efficacy questions, and 3) 8 personal background/demographic items. Based on the results of the MPBST, students were assigned to groups as follows: one of each GTA's three sections was grouped homogeneously, another section was grouped heterogeneously and the final sections were in self-selected groups. GTAs were blindly assigned to sections so they were not aware of how their classes were grouped.
Grades from these nine sections were be used as a measure of achievement. Scores on individual work, 10 quizzes and 2 exams as well as scores on group work (11 labs) were compared within and between groups. Descriptive and comparative statistics were run. Preliminary findings indicate that lab sections where students were organized in homogeneous (equal-ability) groups (4- 6 member groups) show the highest overall total scores for the course.
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