“Your Child Will Be Placed in Level ...”

During the fourth week of school, the form came home, stuffed into my daughter’s backpack:

Your student scored a XX on his/her DIBELS literacy test, administered this Fall/Summer. Based on this score, your child will be placed in Open Court Level XYZ [with] TEACHER A...

My partner and I knew when we selected this kindergarten that grouping wasn’t just used in the school, it bordered on being a core value. A mandate to use ability grouping had been written into its original charter. This emphasis was a major negative for us, but a long list of positives more than balanced it out.

I thought I had made peace with it.

When the sheet finally came home though, I cried — and my response had nothing to do with how Zoe placed. Whatever way, I’m confident about my child’s curiosity, desire to learn and willingness to work.

I was sad because I knew Zoe and her little homeroom peers worked really hard to get to know each other and create a new and shared community during those first weeks of school, and now they’d be divvied up for sizable parts of their day. I was sad, too, because these young children, just five years old, had entered the world of testing and assessment, and would probably never experience education without it again. It’s a rite of passage that sometimes can suck the joy and love right out of learning.

There was a queasiness behind my tears, too, a queasiness that stemmed from the years I spent on staff at Teaching Tolerance developing tools help educators improve instructional practice, particularly with students of color like my daughter.

Ability grouping is among the practices the Initiative interrogates. Done badly, or too rigidly, (some researchers would say, done at all), it not only can stifle learning among students (regardless of their grouping level), but also can stigmatize children and bolster stereotyping.

Zoe’s school embraces grouping for the right reasons. Its entire academic program is designed to challenge every learner and close the achievement gap. The administrators and teachers are dedicated to providing the best possible instruction for the children in their care. They believe grouping supports these goals.

Further, they’re well aware that grouping is no panacea. They know the downsides and work to apply emerging research, and their own experiences, to better meet the needs of students. A recent change within the community, for example, was to abandon the term “ability grouping” in favor of “performance grouping.”

Although this may seem a matter of semantics, it’s an important shift. “Ability” conveys a fixed mindset: children come with innate and static capacities for learning and achievement. “Performance” recognizes that what teachers are actually doing is measuring students on how they are currently responding to a certain set of tasks.

This is a line of inquiry I certainly support, as a parent and as an educational advocate. And I trust these educators’ motivations and respect them as professionals.

So why won’t this queasiness in my stomach go away?


flexible and fluid groupings

Submitted by Debbie on 28 October 2009 - 5:10pm.

flexible and fluid groupings should be the watchword of the day. kids learn differently, at different paces, with different strenghts and challenges. one could be high achieving in math but low achieving in reading. or comprehend more by listening to stories, or respond better to manipulatives to learn concepts of math. teachers who are multi-dimensional themselves 'get it'. keep the comminication flowing between home and school.

I'm a middle school teacher

Submitted by Anonymous on 29 October 2009 - 12:45pm.

I'm a middle school teacher in a school where the children have been divided up in to "honors" (anyone remotely near grade level) and "regular" (below grade level), and do we miss the days when the children were better mixed. The "regular" classes are barely functional. They are filled with struggling readers (some many, many years below grade level), and students who have been unsuccessful in school for years. The role models are gone. The students who did homework are gone. The students who participated in class are gone. They can only learn from one person (me) instead of each other now.

Much of what teachers are blamed for comes from the top down. I don't know any teacher who ENJOYS teaching a curriculum instead of teaching children, but we have very little choice in the matter these days. District pacing calendars dictate that all teachers in a given grade must be on the same page on the same day. All students must take common assessments which necessitates teaching common lessons. This is seen as a step forward in consistency, but I feel like I'm being held accountable to teach children in a manner in which I don't believe. It's a hard time to be a teacher. I don't know any teachers who think grouping based on a single test is a good idea, but I know schools where that is the program. So much of education is out of our hands-- from the way the children are scheduled, to the books that are purchased, and the assessments that are mandated ( and changed year to year).

My own child is in Montessori. 20 kids in the room, each working at their own level, each being challenged, but it is only possible because of the system and routines of the school. It is not something that could be replicated in one classroom.

I understand your problem,

Submitted by Becca on 27 October 2009 - 10:20am.

I understand your problem, because I always have had the opposite problem. All three of my kids tested as gifted. Two of the three taught themselves to read before kindergarten. I have struggled to get the school to give them something that would challenge them. The teachers complain that they do their work too quickly and then want to talk. I asked one of my older son's first grade teachers to give him a higher level reader, and she said she couldn't do that, because it would be embarrassing to the other children. I ended up forcing the school to test him for grade advancement, which he passed with flying colors. He is now in middle school, and still at the top of his class, even though he is close to two years younger than the kids in his grade. Now my youngest son is in kindergarten and we are starting this process all over again.

Research the Open Court

Submitted by Maria Ines on 20 October 2009 - 2:17pm.

Research the Open Court reading program! There are many negative aspects of that program, and many negative reviews that you will find, even with a simple internet search. I am a K-12 reading specialist and I would never recommend for a school to adopt that program. There are so many great programs out there. Teacher training is far superior to any scripted program that is available (and making lots of money). I find in incredibly sad when school districts waste their money on programs such as Open Court.

I also researched DIBELS during my graduate studies for an EdS in Literacy Leadership and found it disappointing. The advantages to the DIBELS is that it does not take a great deal of time to administer, the people who administer the test do not need a lot of training and the materials are inexpensive. In other words, IT IS CHEAP! To base a child's placement in a reading group on the sole basis of the DIBELS is a crime. Really what does a timed reading of nonsense words really tell us about the child's reading ability and comprehension.

Programs like Open Court can destroy a child's love of reading. Authentic, quality literature and skilled teachers of reading should be the basis of all reading programs. ALL our children, around the world, deserve no less than that.

Tracking hurts the 'smart'

Submitted by susan pfeil on 11 October 2009 - 3:25pm.

Tracking hurts the 'smart' children as much, or if not more, than the 'lower' ones. I have little confidence in the educational expertise of anyone who supports tracking at the elementary level.

I can see where this test

Submitted by Eccentric_Lady on 4 December 2009 - 3:43am.

I can see where this test goes off easily, for DIBELS itself has stated that it is not for tracking. Link is to the PDF that states that from the official DIBELS site.

What gets me about tracking sometimes is that it is the feeling of making kids cookie-cutters in learning...some will be bored to tears due to it being so simple and others will be screaming on the inside due to the sheer level of frustration and keeping them separate groups. Add the peer pressure mix in this, and it'll make failure the Hades kids will fear of being kicked out of the esteemed group to a lower one.

At that age range, kids need to learn it's okay to fail - no one's perfect - and have a teacher, tutor, or parent goes over the material and see where the 'snag' is to work out the kinks. It's when failure of comprehension leads to 'pretend to comprehend' versus getting the help learning is where the true tragedy lies. Elementary school, after all, is where all the basics are taught and built on later in education and socially too. Tracking may also be sending out a mix-message with kids too - it's okay to snub Joe for he's not as smart as us.

Don't mind me rolling my eyes here...chances are Joe is just as smart as they are - but due to learning differently he doesn't have the score to prove that. (Which I wonder if tracking takes that into account? Or is it all basically your traditional left-brained sytle learning?)

Levels appears to be very

Submitted by Sheila Grady on 10 October 2009 - 12:14pm.

Levels appears to be very similar to the tracking system that was popular in the 70's. The practice of tracking in the Rockford, IL schools effectively resulted in racial segregation of the schools. These decisions eventually resulted in a class action law suit in which "racism was "a new art form," according to the court's findings. The court action resulted in federal oversight and years of attempting to remedy the results of tracking.

To learn about raising the performance of all students, go to PSB.org and look for "The Principal's Story." It is a demonstration of what can and has been done for students.

As a parent I struggle with

Submitted by Cristina Hamilton on 8 October 2009 - 8:05pm.

As a parent I struggle with this same issue with my son. I opened my own school because of the label and blatant discrimination. I don't think the grouping is based on a child's ability or willingness to learn. It seems these tests have been put in place as a tool to separate those who don't meet standards deemed by the government. Meaning these tests are put in place to ween out those who can "figure out" things with little or no effort and those who can be distracted from the actual truth. Those who can be distracted are the one the can be taught how to become good test takers as oppose to actual scholars.

from Elaine part 2 I've read

Submitted by Elaine on 8 October 2009 - 10:33am.

from Elaine part 2

I've read all the reply postings. It's so true that there is a teacher and a parent side to this argument. From my part anyway I am not interested in blaming teachers or parents or in any argument that's about placing blame. At the same time, whether and how a teacher is adequately supported in the quest for differentiated instruction is a pivotal issue here. Your child is in school now, so a parent needs useful information and guidance, now. Have reviewed the peer reviewed lit on the subject and there's plenty of data that suggest big problems around predictive validity for the DIBELS. So the essence seems to be as I had guesstimated in my previous post- would be a good idea to watch things carefully, to see whether the teaching interventions used with your child are actually promoting and advancing her progress. To the teachers out there who are frustrated with Jennifer's response--I understand (I hope) what you're saying; at the same time too much of what is being done to address the broad range of learning differences in our youngest kids remains in the divide but not necessarily conquer the problem realm. Maybe that doesn't happen in your school, but it happens a lot.

As an educator we can always

Submitted by Maggy Martinez on 8 October 2009 - 3:56pm.

As an educator we can always look for a way to make any child to be successful in life and in education. Maybe it will take a little bit more, but when a concerned parent is present, also, this will help a lot. Guided Assigments with the use of technology will help the learner and the parent.
One las comment our kids will excel if we ask them more and definetly they will learn because they are like sponges; they absorb everything, even when a teacher is not sensible and compasionate.

I can't know for sure,

Submitted by elaine on 7 October 2009 - 3:03pm.

I can't know for sure, obviously, why the queasiness hasn't gone away (despite the clarity and sincerity of your observations and comments) except to say that your reaction is part of being a loving mother; but I don't think it's only that. I need to review the research on ability grouping more carefully and more contemporaneously than I have to date. Whether we call it 'ability' or 'performance' grouping I don't think matters; I have strong doubts about the rationality of this practice and more serious doubts about this practice with regard to minority language children; concerns about the effects on teacher attitudes and of course, the kids, whether minority language or not. Ever since schools started abandoning the developmental (and largely empirically unchallenged) view of how children learn, there has been one rationale after another endorsing the practice of abilityg grouping. It was already routinely done when I was a k-12'er and that was in the late 50's and early 60's. There has always been a rationale. But I truly think they're mostly bogus. Whenever a subgroup of kids within (and that's important)a public school classroom are subdivided according to 'assessed' ability, the better to teach and promote the learning in each group, no one is fast-tracked or faster-tracked after that except for the kids in the 'optimal' literacy or reading group. This is the same thing that is done all the time with L/D kids. The education research also expresses strong reservations about literacy assessments. I will look at that literature again too,specifically the DIBELS literacy test; if you would like to compare notes, by all means, contact me at the email address above. I'm currently doing my graduate work in the assessment and literacy assessment area.
Watch and oversee carefully what happens with your child now that the grouping has been made. Do not assume that the approach being taken is research- based or that the teacher is fully aware of how her own responses are influenced by what is often undifferentiated, differential diagnosis of literacy. Your child is at the beginning of her school life; if she is your first, you are at the beginning of that experience as well. With my best wishes, Elaine Z

"you expect the struggling

Submitted by Anonymous on 7 October 2009 - 8:49am.

"you expect the struggling learners to be supported and encouraged and the higher ability students to be challenged - get a grip."

What an attitude to have. As a high school teacher with classes of 30+ students in one of the most struggling school districts in the country, I have reading levels that range between 3rd grade and post-high school in the same class. I DO expect each student to succeed and be challenged in a way that is appropriate to him/her. Furthermore, it can be done. It simply requires hard work and dedication. Teaching is not a 9-5 job.

To learn more about

Submitted by Annah on 6 October 2009 - 3:47pm.

To learn more about differtiated instruction, check out this Teaching Tolerance activity.

I am sick unto death of

Submitted by Anonymous on 6 October 2009 - 6:14pm.

I am sick unto death of hearing about "research based" this and "research based" that. It is almost as if those in the education field believe that if they can label any type instruction with "research based" that it is a cure for all the evils in the public education system. Unfortunately, there are far too many problems and far too few solutions. I've read several comments with quite salient observations, and while Abby's comments may not have been "PC," it is one shared by a great number of current educators. Yes, the classes are too large - yes there are labels that go along with grouping - yes there is no answer for who is going to pay for anything that would be truly helpful - but whoever made the comment about it being the teacher's JOB sounds just like the parents that I could kick to the moon. Yes, it is my job to teach language skills, and I take my job with all of its inherent obligations and responsibilities very, very seriously. But the major burning question for me is when are the students and parents held accountable for their learning, or the lack thereof???? Teachers have become the latest scapegoat for all that is wrong with the public education system - which by the way is steadily turning into little more than a glorified juvenile detention center - and all the while, our classrooms are populated with lackwits and deviants that refuse to hold up their end of the bargain - to come to school and at least try to learn - only to have teachers take the beating for it. This rant could go on and on - but I will close with a recent comment made by our President - not that this is verbatim - but it was something on the order of "our students are currently advancing at a rate equal to the slowest child in the room." Those who pander to "differentiated instruction" - please, just how many things do you think one human is capable of doing at once???? In addition to individualizing instruction for 25-30 diverse learners, which by the way includes all manner of children with special needs - including those with such incredibly outrageous behavior that one person alone couldn't keep them under control - you expect the struggling learners to be supported and encouraged and the higher ability students to be challenged - get a grip. Perhaps you hadn't noticed, but this country is in no way shape or form a utopia. If all this research-based crap is soooooo great - why are test scores still so lame?

* My students are making

Submitted by Laurie on 28 October 2009 - 7:58pm.

* My students are making wonderful gains.
* I spend an average of 11 hours a day at "work".
* I completely agree with your post.

Research can show what you

Submitted by Sp. Ed. Teacher on 12 October 2009 - 7:55am.

Research can show what you want it to show.

But the bigger problem is the educational bandwagon. Educators (or should I say administrators) jump from bandwagon to bandwagon without ever staying on one long enough to see if they actually like where it is heading. When a new piece of research comes out, the administration turns in that direction as if led by a carrot on a stick, until someone comes along with a bigger or better looking carrot, or perhaps a shorter stick that provides a faster or easier means to the carrot.

Parents should be involved in their child's education. I can't teach your kid how to read if he only gets opportunities to read for hour and a half I have in reading instruction time. But if you ask him to read at home, he will learn. Remember parents, you were his teachers long before I ever was, and just because he comes to school now doesn't mean that your jobs are over as teachers. Much of what I do as a special educator that is trying to undo bad parenting of kids with AND without disabilities.

My first response to this is

Submitted by Anonymous on 8 October 2009 - 9:06am.

My first response to this is that your job is not to teach language arts, but to teach children. Second, I cannot undertand your opposition to research-based instruction. Would you expect any other profession to ignore the research? Why would you ask teachers, doing the most important job in the world, to ignore information on what works and what doesn't. Not all teachers belong in the profession. Perhaps the anger you express suggests a need for a different career path. I hold much greater respect for those who realize it isn't right for them and move on to other fields. As for test scores, try reading some research to understand all the complicating issues surrounding tests?

I understand where you are

Submitted by Autumn on 6 October 2009 - 2:50pm.

I understand where you are coming from as a parent. I am currently a pre-service teacher and have foucused on ability groups in many of my classes. I think the term 'ability' does make parents feel as if their child is of a less ability, but you have to know that ALL children, especially young children, are at different learning levels. The purpose for the grouping is so that their zone of proximity is met. If all the students are sitting and learning all together, some children will not be learning because the material is too easy or too hard for them.

As for the child having to leave behind their friends, I think that they should be able to make friends and adjust very easily to the switch throughout the day.

Thank you for the

Submitted by Kate on 6 October 2009 - 2:00pm.

Thank you for the differentiation comment ("What's easier for the teacher isn't always best for the students"). So true! Part of being an educator is coming up with creative ways to push each student at an appropriate level. Whether that is incorporating literature circles into the classroom or creating a menu of assignment/assessment options for students, it is up to the teacher to make sure each student is being challenged at whatever level that may be. Every student, regardless of ability level, has a unique perspective and important ideas to share. By separating students into ability groups, we are doing a disservice to all our students.

"So why won’t this queasiness

Submitted by Elizabeth Barrette on 6 October 2009 - 1:01pm.

"So why won’t this queasiness in my stomach go away?"

Because you probably never had the countervailing experience, as a student or a teacher, of watching a class flounder due to divergent levels of student comprehension.

In a mixed class, some students are way ahead of the material presented; they are bored and frustrated, and the class is wasting their time. Some students are right on the mark; they are learning at a comfortable speed, but they might pick up the bad habit of coasting. They also get little attention from the teacher even though s/he is ostensibly aiming for them. Why? Because there are several kids who *don't* understand the material and aren't ready for it. They're frustrated, always feeling rushed and inadequate, so that the teacher spends much of the time trying to help them get just far enough to pass the tests.

This does nobody any good. For best effect, education should be presented at a level that a child can learn capably ... and some assignments should be really challenging so children get a chance to stretch themselves. They should master current skills before moving on to the next set. Few schools actually achieve this.

I can see both sides. What

Submitted by Jonathan Hall on 6 October 2009 - 12:39pm.

I can see both sides. What we're really debating is CLASS SIZE CLASS SIZE CLASS SIZE. I'm a teacher (high school) and a parent (5 yrs). I was also a new student in the first grade. We didn't have kindergarten. My older brother taught me to read. I was reading at a third grade level when I started school. The teacher decided to "challenge" me at my level. I was placed by myself with a stack of books instead of being included in a reading group with cool names like Bears and Lions. I'll never forget the feeling of alienation nor the incredible exultation when I was allowed to join a group and read out loud. My parents were both teachers and intervened to make that possible. We are more than intellects in the classroom. Turns out that I actually have a reading disability. I'm the slowest reader and test taker in my Social Studies dept. (perhaps in the whole faculty). I have other gifts and I'm a great teacher. I've been teaching for 15 years and love it. We just finished an in-service on differentiated instruction. The only thing stopping us is CLASS SIZE. That's the real issue that we're debating here.

It won't go away for you

Submitted by David W. on 6 October 2009 - 12:27pm.

It won't go away for you because you are aware how "ability groupings" have been used historically to separate and in many cases stigmatiaze students. This is not to say that the education community intentionally seeks these ends. Yet, the undeniable truth is that for many low income children, their educational careers are forever routed as a result.
You should I believe, have a certain queasiness regarding your daughter's placement in to a performance group. particularly considering her age. Good luck to you.

I know I just got here, and

Submitted by Crystal on 5 October 2009 - 3:03pm.

I know I just got here, and am at this web site as part of an assignment, but as a parent, I can empathize with you and your concerns. We have never met, but I know how it feels the day it gets hammered home that someone is judging your child. And you are right to be concerned. A parent who is concerned keeps a keen eye on their child and school, and spots problems long before other parents. No matter which school your child goes to, having faith that a stranger will do what is right for your child does that child a disservice. You are the one who knows your child, and knows what is right for them. I applaud you.

You are not alone in your

Submitted by Gidget on 5 October 2009 - 1:54pm.

You are not alone in your worry about the grouping. I worry about my three year old, he is not even in school yet and people are trying to make him feel worthless, all because he is not as vocal as other students.

As a future educator who is

Submitted by K.M. on 1 October 2009 - 3:11pm.

As a future educator who is taking a class about the problems in public education today, I wasn't too surprised but was disappointed by Abby's comment. The resistance to change your methods as a teacher and resort to grouping is enforcing the hierarchy that leveling creates. I was in Honors and AP courses throughout my middle and high school careers, and I found that leveling caused students who were in the to think less of themselves and the "smart" students to look down on everyone else. That Abby would encourage leveling simply because it's easier and considering knowledge dangerous are two ideas that have caused public education to be in the state that it is in. Did you ever think that a change in class size would allow you to meet all of your students needs, those who know how to write their name and those who don't?

Who will pay for the change

Submitted by Anonymous on 6 October 2009 - 1:04pm.

Who will pay for the change in class size?

Abby is absolutely right. My

Submitted by N.C. on 1 October 2009 - 12:59pm.

Abby is absolutely right. My son was reading on a second-grade level in kindergarten. There were a handful of other kids in the class who read above grade level. Did the teacher do anything that would help those kids advance at their own speed? Of course not. She forced them to do the same work as the kids who were still learning to read. As a result, my son and the other advanced students were bored out of their minds.

This is not some minor problem. Gifted students who become thwarted by well-meaning teachers and parents usually become serious discipline problems as they grow older. They also fail to learn good study habits. Why should they? They can coast through the baby work they're given. We solved the problem by moving schools. Not everyone can.

While this thinking might

Submitted by Pam Vernot on 23 December 2010 - 9:30am.

While this thinking might seem legitimate on the surface, I would ask you to consider other alternatives as the answer to your concerns. Differentiation in a heterogeneous classroom for is one alternative I use in my kindergarten class. I, too, have children who excel in reading as well as other subjects. I also have struggling students. Flexible performance grouping within this heterogeneous classroom is not only effective but also what research tells us is "best practice" developmentally. While it is easy to see a "quick fix" to meeting the diverse needs of students-especially in kindergarten, one must always consider the development stages that children are going through at this age. There are trade offs to every educational model. The ill effects of homogeneously grouping children at this age are far greater than the minimal benefit that may be gained by a small number of students--including children who are performing at a high level. I agree that teaching needs to be at a level that enriches all children and meets their needs. The questions seems to be "how is this best accomplished?" Perhaps looking at research on this topic would shed some light. Unless we are educating in a way that looks at the "whole child" and what is developmentally appropriate, we have failed as educators. Children will NOT move forward without fundamental needs being met first. Such needs include a close relationship with a teacher and a sense of belonging and community within their classroom. This takes time and intentional effort on the part of the teacher. It has been my experience that, until these bonds are formed, children are not ready to move forward academically. Why, at this age, are we pushing children academically beyond what their development stages need? There is much to be said for teaching tolerance as well. This parent was right on target. As an educator, and a parent of 4 gifted children, I have always been a proponent of heterogeneous grouping with differentiation and/or flexible "fluid" groups based on performance in specific skills. It is critical that with this, there are frequent assessments to make sure that differentiation is done correctly. Is that possible with 1 teacher and growing class sizes? Yes, it is. A well managed classroom that is not primarily based on whole group instruction and where differentiation is embraced is quite possible. Does it take effort on the part of the teacher? Definitely! I use parent tutors for both intervention and enrichment. I train them and they are an excellent asset to our classroom. They work under my direct instruction. It works! I work with small groups, I use peer tutoring, and many other strategies to make this type model work. All children are being challenged. Is it perfect? No. Smaller class size would be much better. But the reality is that with State funds decreasing, smaller class sizes aren't a reality in the near future. Before you pose recommendations for models that homogeneously group children, please make sure that you read research already well documented. Let's look at the whole child--all of their needs..... not just whether or not their reading is being challenged. Do we really want fluent readers at the expense of other critical needs of children when we can serve the whole child with more appropriate models?

I had high-achieving

Submitted by Cheryl on 1 October 2009 - 1:37pm.

I had high-achieving kindergartners as well, but I still don't think Abby is "right" about this parent being a problem. I think we should all be a little queasy about this process because it does have some significant ramifications for our children.

When we expressed concern about our boys getting bored, the teacher said it would be OK in the end because they just came into school already knowing so much and that eventually in a few years, the other kids would catch up. Whoa. In other words, don't worry, your kid can suck his thumb until everyone has caught up.

By the same token, I hate the notion of kids being divided up on the basis of a test like the DIBELS. Especially in kindergartners, it's not as accurate as individual attention from the teacher.

The REAL problem for teachers isn't parents who are concerned about how their kids are divided up and what they do with their day. It seems to me, the problem is that we've got too many kids in a single kindergarten class for a teacher to adequately assess over four weeks -- so instead we rely on a standardized test that takes less than 10 minutes to administer.

As a second grade teacher and

Submitted by Eleanor on 6 October 2009 - 6:52pm.

As a second grade teacher and parent of young children I totally agree with the author's feeling of queasiness. As a teacher I know it is a challenge to differentiate instruction and meet the needs of a classroom with a wide range of ability, attitudes, preparation and skills. Especially because these difference in levels will not be consistent across content and context. I believe strongly that the idea of segregating children on one measurement for a significant amount of instruction is detrimental to children and teachers. For example, a child with low reading skills and early in the stages of applying spelling conventions may still be able to demonstrate to her peers how to develop writing stamina and creativity. Highlighting her abilities would benefit any of her peers, not just those "equal" to her in spelling or reading. How are we all to benefit from diversity and the surprising ways children learn from each other if we use only one measure to assess their "knowledge", "performance" and "ability"? We, as adults and educators, need to rise to the challenge of providing time and space to use flexible grouping, cooperative strategies, a variety of assessments and a range of teaching methods. It IS exhausting but worth it. I would hate to be in a workplace that tested me in my first days of the job and determined that I was to work at an x level job with the label, low, medium or highly skilled in the same cubicle with Boss X. If I knew that other coworkers were in different cubicles because they were "smarter" (and children do pick up on that), I would develop a pretty negative attitude toward clocking in. I doubt my work performance would improve.

Your queasiness is exactly

Submitted by Becky on 1 October 2009 - 11:12am.

Your queasiness is exactly why my parents chose a Montessori school for me in the 1960s and why I chose Montessori for my own children. The recognition that each child is different and each deserves the chance to work to his full potential is the key for me. While some find Montessori too structured for their taste, I love walking into a busy (yet quiet!) Montessori classroom full of children fully absorbed in their own individual works. Both my children have thrived in an environment that allows them to take a certain amount of responsibility for their work and progress as they achieve understanding, rather than as a one-size-fit-all program dictates.

I am amazed at the thought

Submitted by Kristy on 11 October 2009 - 4:13am.

I am amazed at the thought that a teacher was angered at a parent for trying to educate herself and be involved. Quite simply put, all people learn differently. If we do not differentiate as educators, how can we expect all children to learn what we teach? Find what works for a child and go with it. It may be time consuming in the beginning, yet it will save you time and efforts in the end since you learn which way works with each child. Too many teachers are teaching strictly by a curriculum guide and not using their own brains and education. It's quite sad really, yet common sense could really help!

Abby, how can a parent be

Submitted by Anonymous on 1 October 2009 - 11:08am.

Abby, how can a parent be "dangerous"? I would think a teacher would respond with a more factual and less emotional response.

There are so many

Submitted by Ellie on 1 October 2009 - 10:12am.

There are so many alternatives to "ability" grouping. As an educator, I advocate the classroom learning community in which pairs and groupings are fluid and flexible. Research in literacy instruction strongly supports these strategies. I thought that the response to the parent, stating that "she has just enough knowledge to be dangerous" was disrespectful of a parent who was voicing valid concerns. Ability grouping based on Dibels is not a practice I would support. I value the "FOUR BLOCKS" in which I, as a teacher, might have one group for developing skills and strategies in literacy at one time, but may group according to interest at another time. Another day I may have paired reading.....but at no time would I maintain a static group based on the reading score from Dibels.

Ellie, Could you describe

Submitted by Willis Hawley on 1 October 2009 - 2:17pm.

Could you describe your four blocks approach so we might make that strategy part of the Teaching Diverse Students Initative database?

The Teacher's Guide to the

Submitted by Ellie on 2 October 2009 - 3:49pm.

The Teacher's Guide to the Four Block: A Multimethod, Mutlilevel Framework for Grades 1-3 by Patricia M. Cunningham, Dorothy P. Hall, and Cheryl m. Signon, Carson-Dellosa Publishing Company, Inc.

A guide is also produced for the intermediate grades.
I love the way the literacy program is organized.
The ideas are certainly adaptable to the Kindergarten setting. Thanks for checking. To me, this is a way to organize the classroom where all children thrive.

You are the kind of parent

Submitted by Abby on 1 October 2009 - 9:48am.

You are the kind of parent that makes life difficult for me as an educator -- you have just enough information to be dangerous, but no real experience with the realities teachers actually face in the classroom. If we have children coming into kinder who don't even recognize letters, and others who are reading already, what can we do but group? We can't sacrifice the progress of high-achieving students, either.

Jennifer's reaction is how

Submitted by Elaine on 8 October 2009 - 10:43am.

Jennifer's reaction is how parents respond when they learn about this things; why take it personally? Also she has plenty of support for her concerns in the education research, which doesn't filter to the facts on the ground nearly fast or accurately enough. Also I would ask you to consider this-
the fact that academics have been pushed further and further down into the youngest levels of the curriculum is on developmental grounds hugely problematic though the education system has moved constantly in this direction anyway. There is a significant variation among kids in terms of reading readiness at the Kdg level anyway. We've changed the curriculum big-time, but kids brains have changed all that much in the last 500 years. Identifying kids as having a reading problem in kindergarten is potentially treating them for a problem that's in the curriculum, not in the kids. That doesn't mean we don't need differentiated instruction, but I would suggest that the other thing that needs some serious differentiation is the skills-drills, academic orientation in Kindergarten.

Wow, tracked vs. detracked

Submitted by Moparjer on 6 October 2009 - 8:35pm.

Wow, tracked vs. detracked schools and classrooms is still discussion fodder! I did a grad paper on this very subject and the "father of detracking" James E Rosenbaum in AFT's American Educator winter 1999-2000 "If Tracking Is Bad Is Detracking Better" says it best. Please go to this site and read on, http://www.aft.org/pubs-reports/american_educator/winter99-00/TrackingWint99_00.pdf

It's called Differentiated

Submitted by House on 6 October 2009 - 1:12pm.

It's called Differentiated Instruction, and it's our job as teachers. Sure, it's easier to teach kids when they are all in the same place in the learning process, but what's easier for the teacher isn't always best for the students.

I couldn't agree more.

Submitted by Melissa on 7 October 2009 - 7:30am.

I couldn't agree more.

Ask any Special Education

Submitted by Anonymous on 6 October 2009 - 2:04pm.

Ask any Special Education teacher and they'll tell you the same thing - differentiate. Observe any resource or self-contained classroom. Differentiation is just good teaching!

So what you are saying is

Submitted by Gidget on 5 October 2009 - 1:53pm.

So what you are saying is that you should only worry about the students that you think can excel and ignore the others? And don't get me started about the job of a teacher, I am a teachers child and she was just like you, personally I believe that the students that are not excelling are struggling because of teachers like you, that only want to work with the child if part of your job has already been taken care of.

I agree. I tutor K-3

Submitted by Anonymous on 1 October 2009 - 2:09pm.

I agree. I tutor K-3 elementary school children in reading and language skills. A child I tutored was so far behind the rest of her class that she was completely lost, and miserable when she was forced to do mandatory testing. The teacher has only one full time teaching assistant, and now with perhaps a 10% budget cut, class sizes will increase. There's simply not enough time or resources available to avoid grouping

Wow Abby. Nice response to a

Submitted by Melissa on 1 October 2009 - 10:04am.

Wow Abby. Nice response to a parent who is actually involved. Guess those parents who didn't teach their children to recognize letters and numbers, read already or do basic addition have nothing to do with why your job is difficult. A little ironic for a teacher to advocate for the position that knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Isn't it the Teacher's JOB to

Submitted by Karen on 1 October 2009 - 11:13am.

Isn't it the Teacher's JOB to teach children to recognize letters and numbers, read and do basic math in kinder...I thought that's what kindergarten was for. I thought early childhood education was all about finding creative ways to accomplish just that. Perhaps it isn't that the parent has just enough information to be dangerous but rather that the teacher has too little information to be effective. The point of the article is to suggest that the labeling which occurs in the context of grouping based on ability; creates a prejudicial preconception (created on paper) which can follow the student throughout their educational "career" causing them to achieve far less than they might be able to achieve and that it does not give the student the opportunity to learn from their "better equipped" peers (a child's BEST teacher next to their parent). When will we ever respect that there is much to learn from one another and that position is not necessarily reflective of intellect or ability? In the adult world labeling obviously has little to do with ability it is also effected by what it looks like on paper. I applaud the parent author's insight and effort to research her subject matter. Also LOVE the "knowledge is a dangerous thing" rebuttal. KUDOS!

Actually, there are other

Submitted by Jennifer Holladay on 1 October 2009 - 9:58am.

As an educator, I totally

Submitted by Anonymous on 6 October 2009 - 6:13pm.

As an educator, I totally agree with you that these are other things that can and should be done.

Thumbs down to the previous comment. Parents have every right to voice their concerns about their children's education.

I totally agree.Listening is

Submitted by Anonymous on 17 November 2009 - 3:18pm.

I totally agree.Listening is learning and being a teacher doesn't mean that your job is just teaching, not listening. By listening to others, parents as well as students,you can discover how to become a better educator or what works and what doesn't.