Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) is a test that aims at improving the performance of students in Mathematics, English/Language Arts (ELA), Sciences and Social Studies. In the United States, the students undertake the test every year to determine whether they qualify to move to the next grade. Teachers apply both learning equipment and flexible groupings in preparing students for the CRCT. The flexible grouping technique involves dividing students into groups according to their strengths and abilities (Deniz, & Tortora, 2005, p. 145). Learning institutions in the US apply the test using teacher-led grouping and student-led grouping methods (Tieso, 2003, p. 30). In teacher-led grouping, the teacher stratifies the students. However, the strata may narrow down to an individual. The latter grouping method involves sub-categorization into collaborative groups, performance-based groups, and student pairs such that students take control of the grouping process (Stephen, 2011, p. 5). In either way, flexible grouping improves students’ performance. This introduces a research proposal that intends to investigate how flexible grouping influences the performance of students in preparation for the CRCT.
Nature and Purpose of the Study
Researchers have carried out several studies to explore various ways of improving the performance of students, especially in mathematics where they have significantly supported flexible grouping (Weaver, 2006, p. 109). However, studies have not exhaustively revealed how flexible grouping strategies for mathematics instruction, coupled with the student’s achievement in CRCT, improve their overall performance (Teno, 2000, p. 44). This study will focus on specific elements of a learning process improved by a combination of flexible grouping and CRCT. The research will also add to the literature intervention models that teachers can use to improve the performance of students.
To achieve the main objective, the study highlights these research questions. Does flexible grouping affect CRCT scores in grades one-to-four? Do flexible grouping outcomes vary with ethnicity, gender, or any other social factor that groups individuals into different classes? When comparing yearly CRCT scores, does flexible grouping affect significantly a specific grade level? Do flexible groupings have a significant impact on the CRCT scores of a student with special academic needs? In each question, the study compares the results between the periods of implementation of flexible grouping and when the study never implemented the flexible grouping methods.
Limitation and Delimitations
The study limits itself to the performance in grade levels one to four. Participants will thus be learners in any of the four grade levels. However, the study will only use a stratified random sampling design to obtain a true picture of targeted populations. A stratifying factor will only be academic ability. The study will not employ mixed research methods. However, it will adopt quantitative methods in both data collection and analysis. However, the presentation of statistical findings will be in the form of figures, tables and graphs. In data collection, the process will not limit itself to the application of primary data sources. Documented information, such as findings of prior studies shall reveal much information about flexible grouping. The study will also use gender, time, and sample size as delimiting factors. Since there will be a random choice of both male and female students, the participation of gender will not be a subject under consideration. Furthermore, the study will use a sample size of 50 participants, which is efficient and easier to handle. A time limit of 12 months, however, may be insufficient in generating comprehensive data to correlate flexible grouping, CRCT, and performance of students.
Justification and Significance of the Study
Researchers have identified several methods to improve the performance of students in preparation for a CRCT. Such methods are not only costly, but also hard to administer (Berry, & Chris, 2001, p. 75). Some of the methods are also ineffective in improving the academic performance of students. Lawson (1998) considers flexible grouping as not only a suitable method for preparing students for CRCT but also as an efficient way of improving the overall performance of students (p. 124). Therefore, the study will focus on evaluating the impact of flexible grouping in CRCT scores and the overall performance of students besides confirming its effectiveness in improving the academic ability of poor-performing students.
Review of literature
The implementation of No Child Left Behind requires that teachers find unique and effective teaching strategies to meet the needs of every student. Differentiation is one way that teachers can tailor lessons to the student’s needs and learning styles (George, 2005, p. 186). Flexible grouping strategies allow teachers to group students based on academic needs and design lessons to provide a more efficient and enjoyable way of learning (Meijnen, & Guldemond, 2002, p. 229). Since flexible grouping utilizes student ability as criteria, it can provide the learner with a more appropriate academic environment, which the teacher can easily manipulate for the learners’ benefit hence the term ‘‘flexible’’. This chapter will explore the research related to differentiated instruction and flexible grouping strategies. The discussion will include a brief history of grouping strategies in the American educational system, current issues affecting student achievement, including disruptive student behaviour, and multiculturalism, differentiated instructional strategies, and differentiated instruction through flexible grouping. The chapter will conclude with an overview of the Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) and research related to improving student performance on standardized tests.
Brief History of Grouping Strategies in the American Educational System
In the United States, one-room schools were commonplace throughout rural areas where students learned academic basics in one room by only one facilitator (Deniz, & Tortora, 2005, p. 143). Since the number of students attending that school was generally small, the teacher created instructions according to students’ needs, not necessarily by age (Tieso, 2003, p. 32). The one-room schoolhouse was composed of students from families over a limited geographical area and some children went to school only at the end of harvest (Teno, 2000, p. 50). The key subjects taught included reading, writing, and arithmetic. In addition, the teachers also taught children to be social, obedient, and polite and to have respect and good manners.
Teachers in the one-room schoolhouse utilized an instruction-al strategy that allowed each learner to study tasks appropriate to his or her level of development. Additionally, more proficient students were tasked with teaching less proficient students in an effort to meet the emotional and instructional needs and diversity among the students’ achievement levels (George, 2005, p. 194). Teachers enhanced the instructional process by cultivating habits of responsibility among students for their own learning and willingness to help one another learn. They also initiate instructional strategies and routines to maximize cooperation so that students could be independent and efficient in learning individually or collectively (Daniel, 1999, p. 1).
The Industrial Era brought about new challenges for the American education system. With the urbanization caused by industrialization, new educational thoughts emerged in American to produce expertise to work in the various industries (Laprade, 2010, p. 741). Economic development resulting from industrialization helped to expand the role and mission of the educational system (George, 2005, p. 195). As income increased and the economy became more complex, society started giving higher value to schooling. As books became more widely available, more Americans had access to information leading to societal transformation (Daniel, 1999, p. 28).
However, it tremendously affected the development of schooling due to the waves of immigrants as educators formulated new educational systems to prepare students for interchanging task roles and for citizenship (Conklin, 2007, Para. 1). The formal educational system in the United States relies on the Western belief system, which influenced the growth of formal learning exercises in America. For instance, the formal educational system developed a two-track system in which people from the lower classes receive religious instruction, minimal instruction, and only learn to read, write and calculate. “Those from upper classes were allowed to pursue an education beyond the basics…They oftentimes attended Latin grammar or secondary schools” (Daniel, 1999, p. 3). Moreover, schools enrolled growing numbers of immigrant children due to compulsory schooling laws (Meijnen, & Guldemond, 2002, p. 240). Tracking was adopted as a way of sorting “those children viewed as having limited preparation or capacity for schooling from native children…Unfortunately, however, tracking quickly took on the appearance of internal segregation” (Daniel, 1999, p. 5).
In order to provide a large enough number of highly qualified professionals, a large segment of the population had to be educated (Valentino, 2000, p. 92). School leaders acknowledged the power and efficiency of factories for their virtues of a disciplined and orderly task force (Daniel, 1999, p. 3). In America, teachers inspired students to follow directions and submit to the authority that was one of the qualifications needed for workers in a mass-productive economy (Daniel, 1999, p. 27). The US education system became rooted in the Protestant work ethic in which students who work hard and desist from misbehaviors receive a reward (Deniz, & Tortora, 2005, p. 141).
The need for cheap labor and urbanization formed a vital part of industrialization. This led to an increase in and a consolidation of the number of students attending school. In contrast to the one-room schoolhouse, needed to find ways to group students to meet their academic needs. This grouping typically occurred by student age, regardless of their previous academic experiences or proficiency levels.
As students became more consolidated in urban settings, teachers faced new challenges, including how to educate diverse student populations in the same classroom (George, 2005, p. 196). With continued immigration and urbanization, classrooms became composites of students from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds making it increasingly more difficult for a teacher to provide for the need of every student (Daniel, 1999, p. 18). Additionally, teaches were faced with a wide range of student academic abilities.
In the early 1900s, teachers handled students’ achievement differences by promoting high-performing students to the next grade while retaining students who had performed poorly (Daniel, 1999, p. 24). With this approach, ability grouping served as the foundation for student grouping in the 1930s (Daniel, 1999, p. 16). The ability grouping did not help those who failed, as they had to drop out of school. “Ability groups are small with informal groups formed within a single classroom…Assignment to an ability group is often short-term, varying by subject and easily changed by an individual teacher at any time” (Meijnen, & Guldemond, 2002, p. 235). For instance, in one particular lesson, “a teacher may divide a typical mixed-ability classroom into three groups for a mathematics lesson: those who need to review basic facts before proceeding, those who are ready to learn new material, and those who need a challenging assignment” (Laprade, 2010, p. 749). Otherwise, in the next lesson, he may revert to whole-class, mixed-ability instruction, or assign students to different groups. Despite indications that ability grouping is damaging to low-tracked students, its proponents indicate that it reduces boredom as students have an equal pace of understanding instruction and assignment
During the 1960s, the civil rights movements had a profound impact on American public education. In an effort to improve the academic performance of all students, schools and teachers were beginning to be held accountable for holding their students to high academic standards (Laprade, 2010, p. 749). It was also suggested that minority students did not have the same types of educational opportunities as their white peers, resulting in significant academic achievement gaps. As a result, the civil rights movement abolished school segregation resulting in diverse and integrated classrooms.
However, simply desegregating students did not necessarily result in increased students’ achievement. It led to increased tracking of students by ability, socio-economic status or race. Ability grouping is not synonymous with tracking (Daniel, 1999, p. 25). Tracking is separating pupils by academic ability into groups for all subjects and curriculum within a school. In a tracking system, the entire school population assumes classes based on whether the students’ overall achievement is excellent, average or below average. Tracking systems often depend on the content presented to students. Students in academically advanced tracks study higher mathematics, foreign languages, and literature while those in less academic tracks acquire vocational skills such as welding, or business skills, such as typing or bookkeeping (George, 2005, p. 197).
Proponents of tracking identify its important strengths. Tracking “allows teachers to better direct lessons toward the specific ability level of the students in each class…meeting the need for highly gifted and talented students to be with their intellectual peers” (Valentino, 2000, p. 92) to experience an appropriate challenge, and to view their own abilities more realistically. Another positive aspect is that students’ work only compares with that of similar-ability peers thus preventing a possible lowering of their self-esteem. Otherwise, “…low self-esteem of the students that could result from comparisons with the work of higher ability students, or inflating the egos of the high-ability students” (Daniel, 1999, p. 5). Since high self-esteem correlates with high academic achievement, tracking should theoretically promote academic success as well as contributes to students’ social and emotional well-being.
In spite of the positive aspects of the tracking system, it has some limitations. Tracking can influence students’ peer groups and attitudes regarding other students because they are more likely to form friendships with other students in the same tracks compared to the case with students outside of their tracks. Tracking can also result in the stigmatization of low-track students. Stigmatization “influences the students’ attitude, as well as his/her academic performance” (Daniel, 1999, p. 27). Since the tracks are not homogenous, it does not work as effectively as it should hence the potential benefits cannot be fully exploited (Deniz, & Tortora, 2005, p. 141). Tracking ended following the realization that “it was giving students in low-track classes fewer resources, fewer experienced teachers, low expectations, and unchallenging curricula” (Valentino, 2000, p. 82). Accordingly, de-tracking was initiated to deliberately position students into classes of mixed ability. As such, “low-track students will greatly benefit in school achievement if they are mixed with high-track students” (Valentino, 2000, p. 82). Since tracking produces “less academic achievement for low-ability students and higher academic achievement for high-ability students, de-tracking would, however, increase the achievement of the worst students and harm the achievement of the best students” (Valentino, 2000, p. 82).
The perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds of all students are important for enriching learning in the classroom. Therefore, the emergence of heterogeneous groupings was to eliminate segregation as supposed by ability grouping as well as to improve the general performance of students. As such, higher achievers have just as much to learn from their average peers (Valentino, 2000, p.61). In heterogeneous classrooms, students are engaged in a curriculum where a student learns from others. He or she does not lose this opportunity for contributing and appreciating the contributions of others. According to Valentino (2000), heterogeneously grouped students in foreign countries significantly outperform high-tracked American students. However, heterogeneous grouping can be unfair to high achievers as they become bored from slowly paced instruction and a lack of challenging assignments, while low achievers become disadvantaged because they may not match their peers who are high achievers hence a feeling of low self-esteem (Conklin, 2007, Para. 2).
Current Issues Affecting Student Achievement
No Child Left Behind
As a result of the Federal government’s concern regarding the quality of education in public schools in the United States, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 was enacted. NCLB supports standards-based education reform, which sets high academic standards for all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, primary language, or socio-economic status (Conklin, 2007, Para. 3). The NCLB Act requires states to develop assessments of student learning in the areas of mathematics, science, and reading/language arts subjects as conditions for receiving federal funding. Under NCLB, the states have permission to establish their own curriculum standards but must ensure that all students, including those with disabilities and those who are English learners, achieve at high levels (Conklin, 2007, Para. 5).
Failure to make annual progress towards these goals could result in a variety of sanctions for schools and school districts. If a school fails to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in the same subject for three years, economically disadvantaged students may receive tutoring and supplemental educational services made available to the low-income students such as free or reduced-cost school lunch while continuing to offer public school choice to all students (Conklin, 2007, Para. 4). However, school’s failure to make Adequate Yearly Progress in the same subject, or for a specific subgroup for four and five years, might result in corrective action such as replacing the school staff responsible for the lack of progress, instituting a new curriculum, including appropriate professional development, and or restructuring the school’s internal organizational structure. Moreover, the correction plan may be to reopen the school as a public charter school, turn over the operation and management of the school to the state, and implement other fundamental reforms approved by the state. With the enactment of the NCLB Act, the federal government has increased its funding to schools from forty-two billion in 2001 to fifty-four billion dollars in 2007 (Stephen, 2011, p. 2).
To meet the goals of NCLB and AYP requirements, schools must implement new, innovative, and research-based approaches to instruction. A flexible grouping approach may be one solution to assisting students in their acquisition of standards (Weaver, 2006, p. 116). Moreover, flexible grouping “provides opportunities for students to be members of more than one group” (Meijnen, & Guldemond, 2002, p. 246). Flexible grouping allows students to experience instruction at the appropriate cognitive level while ensuring that students are not permanently ‘tracked’ or labeled as low or high performing.
One of the biggest challenges faced in desegregated and non-tracked classrooms is effectively meeting the needs of diverse student populations. The heterogeneously grouped classroom may contain a wide range of student diversity, including ability, socio-economic status, cultural/linguistic diversity, learning styles, and previous academic experiences. Language and social integration issues often lead to lower student achievement. Heacox (2002) asserts that teachers should, ‘‘prepare themselves and their children for the ever-changing challenge of interacting and communicating with diverse races” (p. 15).
In a multicultural classroom, the students may come from different cultural backgrounds that may even be different from that of the teacher. As such, they do not speak one language and have diverse political, regional and socio-economic statuses (Daniel, 1999, p. 4). Language difference is a key issue that a teacher must address when establishing a multicultural classroom. However, without the spirit of togetherness and respect for one’s culture, the classroom becomes difficult to manage. It thus enhances the feelings of being atypical among some students.
A multilingual classroom consists of students speaking different languages. Language problems affect ways and means of passing instruction. Because of the communication barrier, many teachers experience difficulties teaching a class with students from various cultural backgrounds, due to the various cultural contexts, language abilities, and parental expectations of the educational system (Teno, 2000, p. 49).
Today, the number of students with diverse cultural and economic backgrounds in the classroom continues to increase (Christopher, & Park, 2006, p. 285). This factor can influence the ability of diverse student populations to socialize with their classmates, understand and integrate into the American educational system, and understand the curriculum in a language that is foreign to them (Laprade, 2010, p. 745). The pressure to perform well on standardized testing, as required by NCLB, may increase the students’ disruptive behaviors and contribute to an overall lack of academic progress for some student populations (Christopher, & Park, 2006, p. 278). The unique need of students in the classroom requires that teachers utilize multiple strategies, including various grouping strategies to ensure equitable academic opportunities for gifted, talented, low achievers, mentally and physically challenged students.
Disruptive Student Behavior
The modern classroom has many distractions that can significantly compromise student achievement. Disruptive behavior includes physical, verbal, or psychological harassment or threatening towards an instructor, staff member, or other students. They have a negative impact on any learning environment (Stephen, 2011, p. 12). For students off-task, the student fails to undertake the task due to misunderstanding or simply negligence. In a case where a student is talking out of turn, he or she will interfere with the concentration of other classmates. Such classes are difficult to manage. Heinemann and Dunlap (2005) assert that misbehavior of students disrupts the flow of teaching and learning in their classrooms (p. 779). They also observed that student lack of understanding of the concepts and skills taught leads to disruptive behavior, which limits student learning irrespective of whether one is attentive or not. As a result, disruptive behavior affects students’ academic performance (Daniel, 1999, p. 29). Therefore, disruptive behavior would be unavoidable in both heterogeneous and homogeneous large classes.
In an effort to reduce the number of disruptions in the classroom, teachers utilize a variety of grouping strategies to lower teacher-to-student ratios and provide more focused instruction (Hoffman, 2002, p. 46). Since any research vividly bonds curriculum and instruction variables to challenging behaviors, learners who exhibit disruptive and challenging behaviors frequently have poor performance than their peers. Stephen (2011) emphasized that “flexible grouping is a strategy that a person can incorporate into the classroom instruction to address this problem” (p. 11).
Differentiated Instructional Strategies
Differentiated instruction is a strategy that teachers utilize to assess the learners’ knowledge, skills, and abilities, providing an instructional sequence that best matches their strengths and areas of need (Daniel, 1999, p. 21). Differentiated instruction “…allows students the opportunity to learn curriculum concepts by providing varying entry points, learning tasks, and outcomes designed to address and improve their needs” (George, 2005, p. 187). Ways in which differentiated instruction can occur include tiered assignments, curriculum compacting, interest centers, and flexible grouping. The paper will discuss each of these strategies in detail.
First, the tiered assignments, which are pre-planned by the teacher, allow students to work on the same content, but at different cognitive levels (Daniel, 1999, 30). While the course materials and goals are similar, it is worth noting that the instructional approach, student assignments, and assessment measures may change based on the promptness and readiness of the learners. For instance, in a unit on measurement, some students can learn “basic measurement skills, including using a ruler to measure the length of objects” (Daniel, 1999, p. 7) while other students can apply measurement skills to problems involving perimeter. Therefore, the teacher uses the approach if the learning goal is the same. This approach can make the lesson more interesting and accessible to a wide variety of student ability levels.
Second, compacting as a process aims at putting the directions in a way that takes care of the student’s capability of grasping the goals of their individual education (George, 2005, p. 189). It comprises of three processes: gauging the students’ experiences on the lesson’s contents, establishing strategies to free the student from learning what he or she had previously learned, and implementing tactics of utilizing the already recovered time to boost the study (Heacox, 2002, p. 9). For example, when a third-grade class is learning to identify the parts of fractions, the teacher might decide to let the students who are already familiar with the content move into the application of the mathematical operations to the fractions. This strategy helps the learner to avoid studying repeated ideas (Daniel, 1999, p. 19).
Third, interest groups direct learning experiences toward a learner’s interest, potentially increasing the motivation of the student to learn (George, 2005, p. 191). Interest Centres “focus on specific math skills, such as addition, and provide activities that are of high interest, such as counting jellybeans or adding the number of eyes on two aliens” (Daniel, 1999, p. 6). However, in interest groups, students “work in small groups to research a math topic of interest, such as how geometry applies to architecture or how math is related to art” (Daniel, 1999, p. 6). When a teacher allows students to choose a topic, they become motivated to learn and teach processes.
Lastly, in the flexible grouping, the focus of differentiation is the interest-learning profile. The students work as part of many different groups depending on the task, with each student assuming a group, as assigned by the teacher or chosen by the students, based on either readiness or interest, and learning profile (George, 2005, p. 190). As Stephen points out, “the teacher may assign groups based on readiness for direct instruction on algebraic concepts, and allow students to choose their own groups for projects that investigate famous mathematicians” (p. 4). Since students “work as part of many different groups depending on the task and/or content, the strategy allows students to work with a wide variety of peers and keeps them from standing as advanced or struggling” (Daniel, 1999, p. 13).
According to Gelpi (2009), research indicates that the use of flexible grouping strategies may improve the performance of students in their studies. Math scores of students for in-class assignments and assessment measures have improved because of students working in flexible groups (Singer and Wallet, 2003). This progress also reflects itself in the CRCT scores of students, which have been increasing over the years in schools that utilize flexible grouping strategies. The North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (n.d.) stated that “Flexible grouping practices that call for collaboration by diverse groups of students when combined with high expectations and may also enable educators to be more responsive to the concerns of diverse parents and community members” (p. 47).
Moreover, activities that involve flexible grouping can be a venue for students to clear their negative assumptions about their classmates. It, thus, develops camaraderie inside and outside the classroom. Flexible grouping encompasses partner work, cooperative grouping, and whole-class grouping (Hoffman, 2002, p. 47). It supports a full exploration of the diverse learning styles and background experiences students bring to the classroom environment (Tieso, 2003, p. 31). Therefore, the teacher should make flexible grouping activities more compelling to enable the students to use the technique several times even in the absence of the teacher to enhance their experience and enjoy the topic of discussion and the learning process (Deniz, & Tortora, 2005, p. 144).
Since differentiated instructional techniques are crucial in helping students comprehend mathematical concepts, flexible grouping can be suitable for teaching mathematics (Tieso, 2003, p. 35). It also involves helping their other group mates to accomplish mathematical tasks. The main role of flexible grouping in mathematics is to allow students to engage in-depth with the other students depending on a particular instructional goal with intensive practice and guidance of the teacher (Weaver, 2006, p. 121). Well-guided groups in a mathematics class are flexible in a way that change exists as they go through their course. The teacher, upon the assessment of the performance of the students, notices that when students are able to achieve a goal to acquire knowledge and skills set for a certain period, they move around and re-group to exchange the knowledge they know and share their expertise for a better learning experience (Daniel, 1999, p. 15).
Moreover, in a differentiated classroom, teachers can determine the groups by the ability and interest of the students. Mathematics is one of the subjects that require deep comprehension of the lesson in order for students to develop their ability to solve problems. Students should be attentive in class in order to understand the procedure of every solution demonstrated by the teacher (Stephen, 2011, p. 3). Grasping and applying a particular mathematical equation varies among the students because they have different learning abilities. However, through flexible grouping, the students will be able to learn from each other’s strategies in order for one to articulate, comprehend and accurately provide solutions to a problem. In support of the usage of flexible grouping in classroom instruction, flexible grouping allows teachers to target instruction to “the needs of different groups at different levels” (Tieso, 2003 p. 34).
Differentiated Instruction through Flexible Grouping
The primary purpose of flexible grouping is to organize students by ability and allow the instructor to focus on content and skill-building within a more homogenous population of students (Daniel, 1999, p. 8). The flexible grouping technique also allows students to develop the ability to work with other people. Differentiated instruction during flexible grouping improves the quality of instruction as the teacher can individualize instruction to meet the needs of a small group of students (Meijnen, & Guldemond, 2002, p. 234). Flexible grouping also emphasizes learning through interactions with peers.
The teacher-led groups include whole-class, small group, and individual instruction. The groups “provide an effective and efficient way of introducing the concept, making summery and conclusions by individual groups, meeting the common needs of a large or small group, and providing individual attention or instruction” (Daniel, 1999, p. 17). Whole-class instruction introduces new materials and “strategies to the entire class and helps to identify students’ prior knowledge and experiences that will affect new knowledge acquisition” (Daniel, 1999, p. 20). Small-group instruction provides opportunities for working with students who have common needs, such as reinforcement or enrichment. However, students also learn to work independently in order for one to refine his or her thought in solving problems.
Flexible grouping helps in the development of social skills and peer interaction. It enables students to share knowledge, skills, and experience thus developing student self-confidence (Daniel, 1999, p. 14). In addition, learning experiences acquired through flexible grouping not only assist the learners in undertaking the class assignment but may also increase their social skills and self-confidence since they are able to share their expertise and capabilities with their classmates. When students are left to discuss and discover new ideas on their own, their morale is boosted hence enhancing their self-confidence.
Flexible grouping provides small group instruction, through which the teacher can easily monitor and adjust learning more efficiently and effectively. Flexible grouping also allows the teacher to redirect potential student misbehavior before it becomes problematic (Heinemann, & Dunlap, 2005, p. 783). It ensures the participation of all students because the teacher closely monitors their work and provides feedback. By matching ability levels with a skill, acquiring the knowledge of flexible grouping provides greater flexibility to meet individual needs (Weaver, 2006, p. 110).
However, according to Deniz and Tortora (2005), flexible grouping improves learning for below-goal students without the potentially negative effects of ability grouping (p. 150). It allows students to develop their self-confidence because they are able to share ideas and enrich the concepts already learnt. A part from flexible grouping, other more recent student grouping approaches such as heterogeneous grouping has emerged to mainstream students with special needs to de-track students across the board (Daniel, 1999, p. 14).
Criterion Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) and Flexible Grouping in Georgia
To improve the quality of American education, the No Child Left behind Act requires the regular assessment of students using validated and standardized measures. Georgia has adopted the Criterion Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) that students must complete at the end of the year before proceeding to the next grade. Students who fail the assessment may be required to repeat the current grade until they master the content. In 2004, more than thirty percent of students below the fourth grade scored below the national average of thirty-six percent in CRCT for mathematics (Weaver, 2006, p. 123). To prepare students for the CRCT, teachers are using flexible grouping strategies to strengthen the performance of students especially in mathematics (Berry, & Chris, 2001, p. 77). In this method, the teacher divides the students into small study groups where they learn the content, processes, and skills with students who have similar needs. The success of this method can be determined by student outcomes on classroom-based and benchmark assessments, and the CRCT.
Previous research suggests that disparities exist between student performance on classroom-based measures and student outcomes on the CRCT, particularly in mathematics and social studies (Lawson, 1998, p. 126). The reason was that classroom-based assessments are not aligned with the expectations of the CRCT, from both a content perspective and a performance assessment.
To ensure alignment between the formative assessment measures and the CRCT, the Georgia Department of Education’s Quality Assurance Committee delineated specific instructional practices aligned with the CRCT (Berry, & Chris, 2001, p. 82). However, there were still poor scores in mathematics and social studies as depicted by CRCT. In this regard, people started to question the effectiveness of the instructional practices in improving the performance of the students (Lawson, 1998, p. 144).
Flexible grouping is one strategy implemented in Georgia to improve the quality of instruction and learning in schools. By working collaboratively, students can accomplish their tasks through learning from each other (Teno, 2000, p. 47). In addition, flexible grouping concepts have found a wide range of applications in the education sector regardless of the student’s grade level. It has enriched the knowledge students learn from their teacher and their fellow students who have a better grasp of specific content or skill sets (Meijnen, & Guldemond, 2002, p. 230). Flexible grouping can be utilized to support students who need more support during the instructional process or come to school lacking motivation or interest.
For flexible grouping to improve student performance, the students should be ready and show interest in learning as well as in-class developing a sense of unity (Daniel, 1999, p. 10). Otherwise, it may not be effective especially when the instructional materials do not suit different skill levels; the teachers have not planned well leading to poor presentation of content, making the learners prefer more traditional approaches (Conklin, 2007, Para. 10). Flexible grouping often appeals to a variety of teaching and learning approaches. It helps diverse student populations to grasp and comprehend the content because it caters to their unique and individualized learning needs (Daniel, 1999, p. 12). High achievers need much less concentration from the teacher, as they are self-motivated to learn the content. Pre-assessment helps the teacher determine flexible grouping patterns and provide challenging tasks that are suitable for the high achiever. Flexible grouping provides gifted students with “opportunities to get to know and work with a wide range of students: the cornerstone of appropriate differentiation for the gifted student’’ (Hoffman, 2002, p. 50). Higher achievers can also gain from curriculum compacting.
Flexible grouping is not ability grouping: it does not discriminate. Since flexible grouping requires that the teacher prepare remarkably well for proper implementation, it allows room for the addressing of the diverse needs of low achievers. The teacher provides sufficient help to overcome learning problems and help them master complex skills such as critical thinking, reading comprehension, mathematics problem solving, and other higher skills at their own pace (Daniel, 1999, p. 11). Therefore, the teacher groups individuals based on the level and the need, and those groups can change over time or under different learning conditions. If the groups are heterogeneous all times, “the only one providing assistance will probably be the high-achieving student, as flexible grouping gives the low achievers the opportunity to realize the positive effects of being the explainer” (Daniel, 1999, p. 9).
Students with learning disabilities and those learning English as a second language can also gain from flexible grouping because the teacher can assign other students to assist in peer mentoring according to their needs (Weaver, 2006, p. 108). Flexible grouping can help improve the performance of students with learning disabilities and those learning English as a second language because they receive motivation and guidance from the teacher or their peers (Hoffman, 2002, p. 53). Through good interactions in the assigned groups, those with disabilities learn to overcome their challenges and share ideas to improve his or performance (Valentino, 2000). Students learning English as a second language benefit through the use of peer coaching and mutual socialization and are required to correct their mistakes in order to perfect their performance (Stephen, 2011, p. 14).
Laprade (2010) stated that flexible grouping enables collaboration between diverse groups of students and has “considerable potential for ensuring equity and excellence for all students in mathematics” (p. 747). Although the research emphasizes that flexible grouping is effective in teaching mathematics, this method is also useful to other subjects and in different grade levels (Teno, 2000, p. 45). If well carried out, the flexible grouping may unleash the greater potential of children learning in the classroom. At one point, the teacher instructs the students on the content of their lesson. However, not everything is in the capacity of the teacher to relay the information. Importantly, the study considers the capacity and interest of the student to learn as another factor in effective teaching (Weaver, 2006, p. 125).
Flexible grouping provides the ability to tailor instruction by ability or interest. According to Weaver (2006), flexible grouping is helpful in teaching mathematics since the instructor is monitoring the improvement on the mastery of the skills depending on the ability and interest of a student towards the subject (p. 111). Since the teacher can determine the skills that need improvement, the teacher will be able to target students with similar skill levels and design instruction to cater to the special learning demands of the group (Weaver, 2006, p. 112).
As for the impact of flexible grouping on student-to-student interaction and social development, the teacher helps students to manage themselves and work responsibly so that they become independent, lifelong learners. Flexible grouping is helpful in breaking the barriers between student differences and developing their social skills (Heinemann, & Dunlap, 2005, p. 780). Flexible grouping strategies allow teachers time to get to know their students well, provide them with stimulating learning experiences, and help them explore the wonders of the world besides classwork (Weaver, 2006, p. 119). Deniz and Tortora (2005), noted that “flexible groups allow teachers to group students to improve learning and social-emotional growth of children” (p.140).
Flexible grouping can positively influence classroom management. The teacher continually assesses the student’s performance in and outside the classroom. Therefore, for effective classroom management, the relationship between a teacher and a student is paramount (Stephen, 2011, p. 1). In a large, heterogeneously grouped classroom, it may be difficult for some teachers to develop a one on one rapport with each student. Flexible grouping strategies may allow teachers to spend time that is more individual with students in small group environments, supporting the development of a unique relationship with each student (Heacox, 2002, p. 7). This can support effective and efficient management of the classroom environment.
Student socio-economic diversity may affect how the teacher manages the classroom. It determines whether a parent follows student schoolwork. It also influences the student’s self-esteem, provision of basic and secondary needs, motivations, and expectations making instruction more difficult to stimulate learning. According to Weaver (2006), it is not just cultural and economic differences that make it difficult to manage the classroom scenario. Socio-economic diversities, in fact, influence the manner in which a student relates with peers and sometimes destruct his or her ability in catching up with the lesson and comprehending the content of every lesson if not well counselled (p. 114). The flexible grouping may serve to minimize such effects because it can provide suitable approaches to managing such a classroom environment (Stephen, 2011, p. 4). It also enables the teacher to have one on one relationship with a student; counsel the student to make him or she enjoys and comprehends the lesson.
Flexible grouping can be particularly effective in multi-age classroom environments. During flexible grouping, students approach tasks according to their developmental levels (Hoffman, 2002, p. 49). This allows students that have different ages to achieve high-level skills, knowledge and to lessen the problems they may face due to having students in a singular classroom that have a wide disparity in their age (Teno, 2000, p. 51).
Meijnen and Guldemond’s (2002) research findings in support of flexible grouping note that ‘‘placing students into small learning groups is not in any predetermined curriculum; it is in best needs and interests of the students…’’ (p. 232). One can relate flexible grouping with cluster grouping. Cluster grouping is a method employed by schools to cater for the intellectual requirements of talented kids. The efficient technique to curriculum differentiation for gifted students is cluster groups. For instance, “if a school has three different third grade classrooms and five gifted children in third grade, the teacher would place all of them in one of the three third grade classrooms and assigned to one teacher” (Teno, 2000, p. 48). However, children who are mathematically gifted might assume one classroom while the verbally gifted are in another classroom. Teachers should be able to distinguish instructions for the diverse levels of capabilities in the class.
Flexible grouping addresses the various needs of different kinds of students while cluster grouping is concerned with gifted children only. A study conducted by Teno in 2000 only addresses limited intellectual and emotional needs of only gifted students otherwise flexible grouping addresses intellectual, social, and emotional needs of all kinds of the student without discrimination. Teno’s study also shows the pros and cons of cluster grouping because most of the schools did not have a formal policy on such groupings. Its advantages include cost-effectiveness and “the ability for students to move rapidly through the curriculum and work in their interest area, and teachers taking more responsibility for the needs of gifted children” (Teno, 2000, p. 46). However, the disadvantages comprise of the “difficulty in the implementation process, lack of teacher training and funds for in-service, as well as resentment towards teachers and gifted students” (Teno, 2000, p. 46). Therefore, in evaluating flexible and cluster groupings, Hoffman (2002), stated that flexible grouping “can meet the needs of highly gifted students as well as harmonize the cone of cluster grouping when effectively carried” (p. 48).
As stated in the previous examples in this study, grouping and regrouping students according to their knowledge and their learning ability allows them to know the procedure to solve the specific mathematical problem (George, 2005, p. 185). This is the essence of flexible grouping in mathematics. Students do not just become experts in a lesson. They intermingle with other students in order to learn from each other’s expertise (Stephen, 2011, p. 9). Therefore, continuous assessment is relevant in depicting an effective implementation of Guided Math Groups (Hoffman, 2002, p. 49). Learning through flexible grouping not only makes learners acquire facts and ideas from the lessons, but they also learn how to maximize their socializing skills by doubling their capacity to work in a group. However, working in a group may be difficult especially if the student does not hang out with his or her classmates during a normal class hour.
Given all these related literature and studies, the researcher aims to shed a light on the research questions by using CRCT as its main indicator. It measures the extent to which students acquire the skills and knowledge. Lawson (1998), noted that ‘‘CRCT yield information on academic achievement at the student, class, school, system, and state levels’’ (p. 129). Such information is significant in identifying individual student persuasiveness and flaws as well as predicting the eminence of learning in the region. All the schools, students, and teachers are preparing for the CRCT every year. Therefore, a student who fails in CRCT repeats that particular grade until he or she qualifies to the next level. CRCT shows what the student acquired in lessons and how much the student retained (Berry, & Chris, 2001, 84). For instance, a student may learn various concepts in a classroom and forget them after doing some different activities. The purpose of the test is to examine whether the teachers use effective strategies to relay concepts to the students and whether the students tremendously comprehend the meaning, importance, and application of the lessons.
Considerably, mathematics is the hardest subject for most students in different grades. The students take mathematics for granted because of the wrong connotation that they do not apply every mathematics concept in real-life situations (Weaver, 2006, p. 124). However, through habitual learning techniques and routines, the students can be able to acquire the knowledge at any learning level they set their goals to achieve. In flexible grouping, the study assumes that the students will be able to grasp the ideas of the lessons extensively, leaving their performance achievement at a high level of skill mastery (Hoffman, 2002, p. 52). Teachers are also using this method because they know that this can save time as the students learn from each other, as well.
Implemented in spring in the year 2000, CRCT is one of the best ways to prevent illiteracy and to ensure that students learn from studying inside the classroom. This could help them to attain their plans. The most similar study to this research is that of Berry and Chris (2001) who explored the relationship of CRCT in reading comprehension and the strategies used by the students to produce good answers and receive at least a passing grade in CRCT. Considering all these, the researcher used a variety of sources related to CRCT and flexible grouping as it is the main subject of the topic. However, the paper cites the mentioned studies and literature in this order as sources of the conceptual framework of this study.
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- Weaver, M. (2006). Exploring Conceptions of Learning and Teaching through the Creation Of Flexible Learning Spaces: The Learning Gateway-A Case Study. New Review of Academic Librarianship, 12(2), 108-125.