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March 6, 2006

Further discussion of ability grouping postponed

The continued public discussion of "some" versus "no" ability grouping originally scheduled for tonight's Performance and Achievement Committee meeting has been postponed. Instead, according the the District website, the agenda for tonight consists of a 2005 Summer School report and 2006 budget recommendations.

In response to a suggestion that the discussion has been postponed because U.W. Sociology Professor Adam Gamoran's January 30 presentation to the Performance and Achievement Committee had not provided the "green light" on heterogeneous grouping that the BOE had hoped for, BOE President Carol Carstensen wrote, "I am not putting off the discussion on heterogeneous classes because of any information, pro or con, from any of the presentations so far. I have always said that this should be a complete discussion - and that the Board should not rush into any decisions. I am hoping that we can continue these discussions in May and early June." Ms. Carstensen also reminded us that Shwaw Vang is chair of the Performance and Achievement Committee.

In expressing our disappointment at this turn of events, we reminded Ms. Carstensen that as the BOE makes sure not to rush into any decisions, individual schools continue to make and implement curriculum decisions and individual families continue to make educational decisions for their children. (We perhaps should have also noted that as the BOE is careful not to rush into things, the District-wide middle school redesign plan moves forward with the core assumption of three years of complete heterogeneity in all curricular areas except math, where quite a lot of good thought has been given to the problem of how to meet the full range of educational need. It seems important to ask why the same level of thoughtfulness and responsiveness has not been brought to our middle schoolers' educational needs in the areas of language arts, social studies and science.)

If you would like to communicate with Ms. Carstensen and her BOE colleagues your own disappointment or frustration with this postponement -- or perhaps your own plans to move, go private, or home school your child -- please send an email to Because Mr. Vang tends to not check his email, feel free to call him at home -- 240-3552.

Finally, here is the summary we compiled for Ms. Carstensen -- at her request -- of the research on the effects of ability grouping on the academic performance and academic self-esteem of high ability students. The summary also contains a few articles on the performance and self-esteem of the remaining students when the highest performing students are allowed to leave the otherwise heterogeneous class. We have strongly encouraged Ms. Carstensen and Mr. Vang to invite U.W.-Whitewater Professor Pam Clinkenbeard and U.W.-Madison Professor Corissa Lotta to address the BOE on these issues. Both are nationally recognized experts on the educational (PC) and counseling (CL) needs of gifted students. As we wrote to Ms. Carstensen, "[we provided you with a summary of the research], but Pam and Corissa could really bring the literature to life for you and your BOE colleagues, as well as answer any questions you might have. Both of them are excellent speakers."

Posted by Jeff Henriques at March 6, 2006 7:36 AM
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