Saturday, November 6, 2010

Tracking and cluster grouping

From another post:

Anonymous said...
Tracking and cluster group discussion participants, I have a question based on my own limited experience with a recent middle schooler (now in high school). I remember the groupings came about in middle grades when intervention time was rolled out to improve literacy. Are cluster groups operating across more subject areas and beyond what I am familiar with at the middle grade level? That would give a lot of parents of special education students something to investigate.

November 6, 2010 3:17 PM
Questioner said...
It would be nice if the school district would promptly answer this type of request for information.

Can someone try emailing to the parent hotline

November 6, 2010 3:57 PM
Anonymous said...
Regarding "CLUSTER GROUPING" - As reported previously on this blog, “The Total School Cluster Grouping Model” (TSCG) was presented to the Board at the 9/27/10 Education Meeting by Cate Reed and Allison McCarthy.

The stated reason for the presentation was “*Board Authorization Sought”

The “Cluster Grouping” model was compared to the “Traditional Model”

Following are QUOTATIONS taken directly from the “GIFTED and TALENTED PILOT UPDATE” power point presentation:

“Whole school approach to student placement”

“Students are “cluster grouped” by achievement level”

“The majority of students remained in the same Achievement Category”

“Minimizes the range of abilities in each class so teachers are better able to differentiate, but does not result in one achievement group per class.”

“Allows more students to shine among their peers.”

PILOT SCHOOLS listed were Colfax ALA, Northview ALA, Fort Pitt ALA, Dilworth K-5, Grandview K-5

P.S. This should be another BLOG and this MODEL should be fodder for the "tracking" and "ability grouping" debate

November 6, 2010 6:03 PM
Anonymous said...
Since the Achievement Gap between Black and White students at two of the"CLUSTER GROUPING" PILOT schools are as follows, it takes us back the Red Bird and Blue Birds “ability groupings” within every classroom.

Achievement Gap at Colfax in Reading is 41% and at Grandview the GAP is 27%: thus, the racial segregation in these classroom would be egregiously obvious to ALL.

What happened to the POLICY against this type of "ability grouping"?

Please read Jeanne Oakes on Tracking: How Schools Structure inequality”

November 6, 2010 6:40 PM


Questioner said...

Here is a link to a review of the book by Jeanne Oakes:

Could cluster grouping be aimed at trying to stop the enrollment decline- the idea being that the higher achieving students have more options and might be more inclinded to stay if there are ability groups?

Questioner said...

And aren't PPS high schools as an example of cluster grouping, with the strongest students from the Westinghouse, Milliones, Peabody and Oliver feeder patterns pulled out to magnets and the remaining students left in lower-performing clusters?

Anonymous said...

The "cluster grouping" process in PPS SPEAKS VOLUMES about the BELIEF SYSTEMS in place at Administrative Levels.

INEQUITY IS STRUCTURED as Jeanne Oakes' research has substantiated.

Jeannie Oakes has made a career out of studying in-school stratification. Keeping Track is her best known account of how tracking is done and its likely consequences.

Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality

"Tracking also result in a stigmatization of low-track students.[5] In some cases, this stigmatization is thought to have a negative impact on students’ academic performance and to influence students’ attitudes. In one study, it was found that, among low-achieving students, students in tracked classes were more likely than students in non-tracked classes to believe that “their fate was out of their hands.”

Questioner said...

Parents whose children are placed in a lower grouping may for the reasons described above pull their children from the school- but of course, many have no other realistic options.

Anonymous said...

"Cluster Grouping" as officially defined by Cate Reed's presentation is "ability grouping" and is just another way of "tracking" students that PPS Administration & BROAD staff do NOT BELIEVE can be taught by PPS teachers. It is a PRIME EXAMPLE of "LOW-EXPECTATIONS" which flies in the face of all the rhetoric about "high-expectations" for ALL students and "Excellence for ALL."

Anonymous said...

The cluster grouping model does have research backing -- and the schools listed as having large achievement gaps had those same gaps prior to the introduction of this model. It has only been in place for one year -- the likelihood of erasing an achievement gap of any size in one year is very small, at least without cheating on the numbers.

The idea that a teacher only has to differentiate the material to 2 or at most three levels in a room is a lot more realistic than the idea that every teacher can teach to 5 levels (or more) of students in one room. Part of the reason that heterogeneous classrooms may show less of a gap in some research is that it holds back the highest performing students as much as it lifts the lowest-performing students -- so the gap does narrow some, but at the expense of one group.

Also, you can pretend that students don't know who in the class gets things quickly, does well on tests, asks questions that don't even occur to many of the students -- and who needs more repetitions of material, or more presentations of material to do well. Kids know, whether you have some separated groups or not.

Anonymous said...

Here's a link to the program that the gifted pilots are running:

They have found in schools that implement it the way it's supposed to be done that *all* children do better. Every year the groupings are redone as well, so it's not a grouping that is set forever. It also tries to provide the better parts of traditional gifted education to all students, rather than just those labeled. The "better parts" meaning more projects, enrichment activities and the like.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, there is strong evidence and corresponding refutation that such "cluster groupings" do not substantially advance achievement for ALL students.

Typically, people espouse what they need to espouse to advance their own group over another.

The research that disproves the two afore-stated blogs is abundant and to cite it at length would be an exercise in futility to those who choose to believe otherwise. As was stated previously, it is most likely the district's attempt, fallaciously, to keep those of dubious belief systems in the district instead of fleeing to suburban areas.

Now, get ready for the protestations. . .

Questioner said...

Can you give us the link the the evidence anon?

Anonymous said...

Literally, VOLUMES have been researched and published. All educators know this_____???where to start with links???______there is not enough space here.

Ascher (1992) notes that student tracking and ability grouping ***** increased "when there are sizable ***** of black and Hispanic students." It is also said that "tracking is a major contributor to the continuing gaps in achievement between disadvantaged and affluent students and between minorities and whites."

In addition to Jeanne Oakes, here are just a few well-known educators on "ability grouping."

DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. (1998). Professional Learning Communities at work: Best Practices for enhancing student achievement.

Erickson, H.L. (1998).Concept-based curriculum and instruction: teaching beyond the facts.

Felder, R.M., & Brent, R. (2001). Effective strategies for cooperative learning.

Gardner, H. (1999). The disciplined mind: What all students should understand .

Halpern, D.F. (1996). Thought and knowledge: An introduction to critical thinking. Mahwah , NJ : Lawrence Erlbaum.

Marzano, R.J., Pickering , D.J., & Pollock, J.E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement.

McMillion, H. G. (1994). Small groups: An instructional approach to learning.

Tieso, C.L. (2003). Ability grouping is not just tracking any more.

Tomlinson , C.A. (1999). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners.

And on and on and on . . .

Anonymous said...

Back to the Jeanne Oakes seminal work; Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality _________


Enough said???? Or is more required????

Anonymous said...

This can work, if we work together.

My sister lives in a wealthy suburb of Chicago. The school district has a new demographic, Latino and not wealthy.

Teachers identify students they feel have the capacity to be enrolled in the gifted program, however have not qualified either due to second language, or lack of early childhood, (insert not a wealthy kid) whatever here.

All volunteers and they spend 2 hours a week with these children that are 7-9 year old humans. They have a "class" and work with the same kids for 2 years. They are not "picked" because they are well behaved, my sister has hysterical stories of how nutty/Nutz some of these kids are. This type of early intervention would serve PPS well.

It is free and does not draw attention or press, therefore is not PPS worthy.

Welcome to reality.

Anonymous said...


Cluster Achievers poor Allderdice.

anon753 said...

I am learning a lot reading the comments here, especially anons 11:07, 11:20 and 3:30. I am attempting to keep an open mind before forming a parent's opinion. BUT, were parents briefed in the buildings where the cluster groupings are in operation?

Anonymous said...

How much of a difference in a classroom still leads to good outcomes?

If there are grade level differences in abilities ofup to 3 grades, sure, I can see that. If there are differences of 5, 6, 7, and 8 years? Unless the teacher is running that room like a one-room schoolhouse, I don't see it happening well.

There are plenty of school with kids who are 3,4,5 years behind their actual grade and kids who are easily 2-4 grade levels above in ability.

Does it do an 8th grader reading at a third grade level any real good to have a textbook written at an 11th grade level? Does attempting to read something 7-8 years beyond your current ability increase your likelihood of success in either reading or science/social studies/whatever subject that text book is in? Or does it further demoralize and frustrate you, make you think that school makes no sense?

What we really need to do is make sure that no child leaves third grade unable to read for content, not just for fluency.

Saying that someone needs more help or a slower pace right now doesn't in any way say that they'll need it forever.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous, Nov. 6 - 11:07

Yes, the schools mentioned in the Cluster Grouping Pilot that have huge achievement gaps did have them previously, because previously, believe it or not,“ability grouping” and “tracking” were strongly entrenched. Ask anyone who ever visited that school.

Achievement Gaps exist because of these “structured inequalities.” That is the point uncovered by all of the research

Anonymous said...

I wonder how the effect of increasing segregation caused by the school closings affects all of this. In many schools, the students are tracked just by virtue of the school they are in -- that is, the magnet schools or charters or private school scholarships have already taken away students that would make a more heterogeneous mix.

Anonymous said...

Agreed! There are many, many venues for "ability grouping" and "tracking" or by any other name ("cluster grouping") and Pittsburgh takes advantage of all _______ even while there was a POLICY prohibiting it.

The initial question was what happened to the policy? Was it ever legislated out? If so, when and why? Is that the reasson Cate Reed and company are bringing this version before the Board and asking for "approval" of the Cluster Grouping Model?

Questioner said...

That's exactly what was meant by this comment early on!

"And aren't PPS high schools as an example of cluster grouping, with the strongest students from the Westinghouse, Milliones, Peabody and Oliver feeder patterns pulled out to magnets and the remaining students left in lower-performing clusters?"

- From the Kansas City Star article about PPS:

"School choice gets into notions of fairness, of taking away the most capable kids from neighborhood schools, and of whether magnet and charter schools tend to worsen traditional neighborhood schools.

Yes, those are valid points, Roosevelt says, but you do what you must to reach as many kids as you can.

“I think there’s fairness to that comment and unfairness to that,” he said. “I have my own magnets that do the same things the charters do, which is they siphon off functionality into a school, leaving the assigning schools to be less occupied by advantaged kids.

“I mean, how fair is it to that African-American family with 25-grand income that has the old American ideal, which is ‘I’m going to make sure my kid is better off than I was’? How fair is it to not offer them choices that other people get just because there are less advantaged people who won’t take advantage of that choice? That seems to me to be an odd philosophical place to reside.”

Read more:"

Questioner said...

At the educational committee meeting, did anyone raise the issue of research on this topic? Did the PPS staff members present just research supporting their plan (as in the meeting on single gender schools)- or any research at all?

Anonymous said...

The current Board is incapable of asking probing questions. They sit and smile and nod their heads.

That is why the District is sinking at a truly alarming rate _____ the cited Roosevelt thinking is circular _____ always excusing bad decisions. Philosophically, there is a vacuum.

Create quality schools and people will be beating down the doors _____ in any neighborhood. Heaven knows there is enough evidence of this!!

Anonymous said...

That was one clear message in "Waiting for Superman"


Questioner said...

However, Board members have signalled that they mainly want a superintendent that will continue with what MR has put in place.

Anonymous said...

The truth is that education research sucks. Unlike most other fields there are very few ways to remove enough of the variables to actually have confidence in your results being causally related rather than just correlated.

I think this difficulty is one of the reasons that scripted curricula have become so popular. If every teacher is saying and doing the same thing at the same time in a classroom with the same things on the walls, well, that really looks like a better way to compare results. It takes at least one big variable out of the mix.

Unfortunately, it's very, very difficult to achieve even that.

When you add in differences in teaching, in student populations, in school buildings, in rates of diagnosis and medication of kids, in rates of labeled vs. unlabeled kids, economic class, educational background of parents and community, class sizes, curriculum, length of school day and year, starting time of school, etc. etc. and then you factor in that every year some kids move on and others stay back and others move four times...

Not to mention that any teacher (at least in elementary schools) in just this district can tell you that few of them have ever had any curriculum to teach long enough to get a real handle on it, before it's changed again. Two years ago big breakthrough technique is next year's forbidden method.

You can't even call it apples and oranges -- it's more like apples and cars and understanding and jumping.

Anonymous said...

Here is a homework assignment for those who agree with the sentiments of Anon Nov. 7 - 9:13

Make a list of the needs/dissonances that you see and are disturbing you. Then draw on whatever power you have and use your gifts to make a difference.

Succumbing to such 'despair' should not be an option.

Questioner said...

It doesn't seem like 9:13 was noting these circumstances in a despairing way, but rather pointing out the reasons it would be difficult to fairly compare results even if teachers are following the same curriculum.

Anonymous said...

If you say so, but, where, in all of that verbage, is there 'hope' or creativity or problem-solving if only on a personal level???

Questioner said...

The comment didn't seem to be about hope OR despair- just an observation on research and the use of scripted curricula to set up comparisons.

Anonymous said...

Disempowerment is not a good choice.

Anonymous said...

Micromanagement leads to disempowerment. Teachers are being micromanaged. Teachers that resist being micromanaged are being targeted. Most of those who are good teachers will survive that targeting, but it takes a huge toll on them, personally, professionally, in terms of stress.

I don't read despair, I read reality.

Most teachers are using creativity and problem-solving all the time, if only to get around some of the current micromanagement. And heaven knows if they didn't have hope, they wouldn't last a day! Most teachers, especially those with a lot of years in, just try to wait out whatever is currently the worst, knowing that all things in education change. and change. and change.

solutionsRus said...

noticed that the research noted regarding tracking is anywhere from 8-23 years old. Agreed that tracking in the traditional sense has been documented to be detrimental to those students in the lower tracks, but I have long held that it is impossible to address the needs of students with 5 different starting points.

Seems to me that the ability clustering that the district is introducing might have some merit, but as usual, we have to watch implementation. Will classrooms have enough qualified personal to make it work? Will there truly be room (and expectation) for movement so that we don't revert back to the tracking of old?

We should not assign sinister motives (racism) to everything that comes from the district.

Anonymous said...

I am uncomfortable with classifying some children as a "4" or a "5." Far preferable would be to say that a child is not up to the average for his/her class and to offer intensive tutoring/ extra help with the idea of bringing that child up to the level of his/her peers without delay. That's what we would want if it were our child, right?

Anonymous said...

To solutionsRus:

There is no child with normal intelligence who cannot learn at level. He/she is not at level because the learning environment has not provided equity, high and/or the teaching/learning resources, et al provided for high-achieving students.

It does not take 2, 3, 4 years of “remediation” to meet the high standard, it just takes equity and educational justice.

Racism as a “sinister motive” is (your) characterization. Racism is always present and always denied by those who do not (necessarily) understand its definition.

Does the previous blogger, among many others, believe that ‘some’ children are inferior to others? Consider the possibility that the instruction and/or curriculum are what is inferior for ‘some’ students.

Whether the research is 8 or 23 years old, there is something to be learned from it, if in fact one is open to learning.

The previous blog is SO filled with erroneous questionable assumptions and hypotheses that it reveals a deeper problem that needs much more than can be provided here.

Children should never be characterized as a 4 or 5 or any other number; rather the learning environment earns the number since it has not been able to educate the child ‘beyond’ his perceived potential.

Anonymous said...

So two children in the same classroom, same teacher, same curriculum who are not getting the same results -- what exactly is the difference there?

Is the reason I can't run as fast as someone else of my age and size because I've been exposed to a faulty running curriculum? Someone with bad motives has undermined my running ability?

Or heaven forbid, my singing. Please, please tell me who to blame for not giving me high level enough instruction to be able to sing well enough to not hurt people!

You can label or not, you can group or not, but there are differences in abilities. Some of these are due to lack of exposure, poor curriculum, etc. Absolutely present the best possible education to each and every child.

But if you expect the exact same outcome from every single child, in every subject (and every sport and every endeavor) -- then I don't really know what to say! (Other than bring on my huge pro sports contract -- obviously the only thing holding me back has been my coaches and some sort of sinister lack of belief in me!)

Anonymous said...

I forgot physics. I also want to be a physicist and a chess master. Never mind that the subject and the game don't really interest me, in fact, they kind of make my head hurt in great quantities.

But, obviously, I can't be inferior in my capabilities in those areas -- it must be a teacher's fault!

Anonymous said...

There are counter arguments for each of these cynicisms, sarcasms (and worse), but it would fruitless, methinks.

Questioner said...

Re: "There is no child with normal intelligence who cannot learn at level." In some Pittsburgh high schools, up to 25% of children are identified as needing special education, and per teachers at those schools additional children should be identified for special education. These students may not be able to learn at level, or may be able to do so only after lengthy remediation or resolution of underlying issues.

Anonymous said...

Extensive research and experience documents that many, many, many of those identified for "special ed" are mis-identified in an attempt to remove them from regular classrooms. Often these "spec ed" students use exceptional intelligence to 'outwit' those in charge ___with behaviors that challenge. It is part and parcel of inequities that exist. Educational justice is missing!

Anonymous said...

One aspect of the cluster grouping that was emphasized by the Purdue researchers was that behavior had to have nothing to do with your grouping. It didn't matter if you were challenging behaviorally, if you'd shown any evidence of being able to be above level in your activities, you were placed in that group.

Anonymous said...

I agree, there are sometimes smart kids who are labeled By middle school though, there are very few pull-out programs, so the argument that teachers want them out of their room is off, from what I've seen is because teachers want the students to have more individualized instruction and more attention to that child's needs.

At a certain point (and its origins are in elementary levels) a child has missed enough basic content knowledge that it doesn't matter if they are actually very smart, in that they don't know enough to show it. That is, even if they are perfectly capable of high-level, abstract math thinking, though don't have enough basic number knowledge to be able to use that ability in a classroom or on a test.

Again, there are so many factors besides just the classroom and teacher that affect motivation to learn and perseverance in the face of odds that other kids don't face.

Questioner said...

The overwhelming message from people in the school buildings is that there are far more students who should be in special ed but are not, than vice versa. These are people who have every sincere desire to see kids succeed at the highest possible level, and who have found that for a variety of reasons they need a special education prgram. Should that program be tailored to bring them up to at least average level as quickly as humanely possible? Absolutely, but first problems need to be identified and acknowledged.

Questioner said...

The overwhelming message from people in the school buildings is that there are far more students who should be in special ed but are not, than vice versa. These are people who have every sincere desire to see kids succeed at the highest possible level, and who have found that for a variety of reasons these kids need a special education prgram. Should that program be tailored to bring them up to at least average level as quickly as humanly possible? Absolutely, but first problems need to be identified and acknowledged.

Anonymous said...

Sad, sad, sad!!!!! As a teacher, I cannot believe we are STILL doing this to our children. Ranking children-Give me a BREAK! DISGUSTING! This model promotes segregation and tells our students that SOME are MORE IMPORTANT than others. In my school teachers WANT to decrease the Racial Achievement GAP and Accelerate Learning for ALL!!! Come on PPS- Stop preaching to the teachers to CLOSE the GAP if you are setting us up to FAIL!!! Protect our students who need the most PROTECTION instead of giving more resources for those who do NOT. ALL students deserve a challenging curriculum and rigorous work.