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Educators and education planners are embroiled in a debate about whether students should be placed by age or their academic ability. Both have their pros and cons.

There is a hot debate going on in academic and educational circles for quite some time now about whether placement of students in classes should be age based or their academic records should be deciding factor for selection of their respective classes. Both pro and against ideas are galore for both the groups. A rational deliberation of this issue is however required in order to understand and deciding about this dilemma.

ability grouping

Being in education and my association with secondary level academics for substantial number of years, I can describe negatives and positives of both the criterion. But, I will assert that keeping students in ability based groups will benefit more than it harms.

Let’s deliberate on positives of Ability based placements first.

Enhances teacher’s focus on ability based group of students:

Children having similar level of skills and knowledge studying in a small group require homogenous focus and attention to each student. This is different from a large group of students having multiple levels of skills and knowledge sets where teacher is supposed to pay different level and type of attention on each student.

group wise job

The ease and comfort obtained by teachers in teaching ability based groups allow them ample time to prepare lessons and their performance is improved a lot.

Pace of instructions remain in teachers control in ability based groups.

If you are teaching students having more or less same level of skills and learning achievements, the pace of instructions is controllable. You will not be required to frequent adjustments in pace and this smooth sailing will allow students to learn in a highly comfortable manner.

Student’s achievement improves in ability grouping

Researchers have revealed that students learning in like ability groups perform much well mainly due to focused attention by teachers. A study by Westchester institute in 2007 has revealed that students working with slow learners soon lose interest as teachers have to adjust pace of instructions more often.

Allows more flexibility to achievers:

Back in 1960’s many schools in USA were practicing placements of students in groups on the basis of their academic abilities. The system is now coming back. Educators in favor of this argue that this system enhances student’s upward mobility as they can always move to upper level of ability groups on the basis of their nice performance in lower ability level groups. Psychologists claim that learning in ability grouping environment proves to be astrong motivational booster for students to move upward.

Ability grouping facilitate tailoring curriculum:

In future,ability grouping will necessitate curriculum tailored according to needs of specific groups having like sets of skills. Education will thus be driven to customization’ giving much liberty to teachers in developing curriculum according to needs of targeted audience.

I think, we have deliberated enough on cons of ability based grouping and now we must check out what implications an age based placement system, has for education in general and students in particular.

Age based Grouping ignores the difference of capabilities.

The traditional system of education, which places students on the basis of age, ignores one major fact of life, which is variance in abilities and skills.It wrongly assumes that all students under same age bracket are at the same development level. It is a common observation that some kids, who are in year four at school, perform and have knowhow like a mature student of 6 year, and thus be placed accordingly. Not doing so will tantamount to deny him or her rightful growth opportunity.

Age based placements hamper performance:

A CNN report of May 5, 2011 narrates an interesting story of Hodgkin’s Elementary school in Westminster Colorado, where Grades and grade levels have been abandoned and children are grouped in classes not on the basis of their ages but their abilities.

According to Principal Sarah Gould, who made this transformation from age based placements to ability grouping possible in her school,every single student is now getting individualized education on the basis of what he needs and when he needs it.

Learning is time based and not competence based

Age based placements in conventional grades give a narrow vision to students who keenly follow a time based learning schedule. In this system students do not make progress on their mastery of skills and knowledge but always stick to standardized syllabi.


In the nutshell it may easily be concluded that future education is going to eliminate grades based on ages and will replace this by a system where students having same level of knowledge and skills will be taught  through tailor-made curricula according to individual needs of each kid.

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