Once upon a time, elementary school teachers separated their classrooms into bluebirds and redbirds, fast readers and slow. It was called ability grouping and was an obvious, pragmatic, and effective way to differentiate instruction for students. But that was before Jeannie Oakes and her acolytes declared war on "tracking" (the practice of assigning students to the college prep, voc-ed, or general ed track). That controversy hurt sensible policies such as ability grouping, too. But sense might be making a comeback. Rock View Elementary School in the Washington, D.C., suburbs uses ability grouping for reading and math and has seen dramatic test-score gains. It's easy to understand why. Principal Patsy Roberson said, "When you have all the students who are academically alike for 90 minutes and you don't have to split them up and give 30 minutes to each group, you get more bang for your buck." Yet despite the school's success, the Montgomery County district was initially uncomfortable with the grouping and demanded that Rock View stop it. When that happened, test scores fell. Roberson's "rogue" methods were thus allowed back into the school, and the achievement of both red and blue birds soars to this day.
"Montgomery School's New Take on Ability Grouping Yields Results," by Daniel de Vise, Washington Post, November 4, 2007