An Organizational Perspective on the Origins of Instructional Segregation: School Composition and Use of Within-Class Ability Grouping in American Kindergartens

From Section:
Instruction in Teacher Training
May. 01, 2010

Source: Teachers College Record, Volume 112 Number 5, 2010, p. 4-5.

This investigation was sparked by research findings on secondary education showing school segregation to be closely associated with homogeneous grouping practices, such as tracking and between-class ability grouping.

Research Design
The authors conduct secondary analyses of national data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K).


Using these data, the authors investigate the degree to which the racial and ethnic composition of schools is associated with use of ability grouping practices as early as kindergarten.

The authors focus on within-class ability grouping for reading instruction because it is the most common form of homogeneous grouping for the early grades.

Results and Conclusions

The authors find that this form of grouping is practiced by a majority of kindergarten teachers and schools, although frequency of use is quite varied, and some teachers and schools use it only sporadically. The most intensive use of within-class ability grouping exists in schools that serve high proportions of minority students and in schools with high variability in students’ reading readiness.

The association between student body composition and use of this instructional practice remains even after variability in student academic skills and other structural characteristics of schools are accounted for. Schools serving primarily minority students that use within-class ability grouping have higher average gains in reading achievement by the end of the school year than comparable schools that do not use this form of grouping. Use of this instructional practice is not associated with increases in average achievement gain scores for schools serving students of diverse or primarily White backgrounds.

The findings provide the foundation for further studies of the structural, cultural, and political features of schools associated with the use of ability grouping at the onset of schooling.

Updated: Jan. 17, 2017
Early childhood education | Grouping (instructional purposes) | Kindergarten | Demographics | School segregation