Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)




Walter R. Borg


For over forty years ability grouping has been of professional concern to educators in the United States (Reisner, 1936). There have been fundamental changes in educational theory and practice during that time, one of which is the recognition that educational practices must adjust to individual differences. The interpretation of "equal opportunity" in education has gradually changed from meaning the same methods, standards, and course content for all children, to meaning the full opportunity for each child to develop his own potential in a school program suited to his individual capacities and needs.

The interpersonal relationships and social development of school children have received an increasing amount of attention as we have come to realize the pervasive effect they have on educational objectives and as optimal social adjustment has itself become one of these objectives. As Brumbaugh (1960, p. 99) has pointed out: Mental health and social adjustment are words to conjure with when there is discussion about separate grouping. A half century ago, the fear was that stigma would attach to a child in a special class for those with below average intelligence. It is now replaced by anxiety lest those at the other end of the scale would have feelings of superiority and become egotistical little snobs.

There are enough studies of children in such classes to indicate that this does not happen but there is also some evidence that there are concomitant effects which are used to oppose ability grouping on a "social segregation" argument. Taba et al. (1952) as an example of this point of view write: Of special interest for intergroup education is the fact that the static single bases for grouping have almost always fixed homogeneity simultaneously along lines of socioeconomic status, race, and religious background. For example, any type of ability grouping also inadervertently introduces segregation by economic class, race, and neighborhood. Because of their cultural handicaps, children from deviant backgrounds tend to be at the bottom of the heap, as far as school achievement is concerned. Hence, in ability grouping, they are thrown together and separated from other children.... This segregation, of course, prevents learning common culture by association with other children. The stigma attached to the lower ability groups further destroys motivation and self-respect, Thus, a basis is built for both physical and psychological isolation. (pp. 138-1939)