An overhaul of the education system is long overdue, and streamed ability classrooms are one of the potential directions for mainstream. It’s already mainstream in some areas, and the idea has been proposed in various places throughout the world. Despite positive results in overall learning in studies, a number of education professionals still offer a compelling case against streamed ability classes.
Essentially, streamed ability classes offer a way for children to go to school with others of similar ability. A simplified version is a school where children with below average, average, and above average scores are each in their own class. This allows teacher to teach at a level that’s best-suited to the entire class, instead of leaving slower learners behind while faster learners get bored.
The case against streamed ability classes ranges all over the board. Though improvement rates seem better than the traditional mainstream structure for all classes, concern over its widespread implementation comes from teachers, administrators and parents.
Potential impact on learning
With students who are uniformly at a certain level of achievement, streamed ability classes seem to help bring all of them to a higher level. The problem arises when a student is exceptional in one or two areas, but average or below-average in others. They are likely to be streamed in the average or below-average classes, effectively limiting or removing their ability to improve in strong subjects. On the same token, an above-average student may fall behind in their weak areas and become frustrated. Not to mention, it may be easier to become demotivated when in lower classes due to the lack of challenge or perception of failure.
Because there is concern over a negative impact on students in their strong or weak areas, there is also a question of how streamed ability classes are chosen. What criteria will determine a child’s placement in any given class? Beyond that, how often should each child be re-evaluated to ensure he or she is still in the correct class? Children who improve quickly may be subject to frequent class switches, which may impact them socially as they’re constantly moved to new teachers and classmates.
Difficulties giving specialized help
While streamed ability classes address a child’s ability or academic weakness, they do not address why. For instance, two children may struggle in English. One may be learning English as a second language, while the other is dyslexic. Though both need help with their English, the form that help must take is completely different for each child.
The concern often voiced by parents and potential streamed ability students is the possibility of social differentiation and stigma. Kids in a below-average class may be seen as “dumb kids” by their higher-achieving schoolmates, while those in the highest-achieving classes may be seen as weirdos or freaks due to their unusually high academic achievement. The younger students are, the greater the chance that they will treat each other different based on the class into which each child is placed.
Though the case for streamed ability is strong, and it does indicate potential improvements in school performance, it is important to carefully consider all of the drawbacks of such a system. Over time, such problems may iron themselves out — or they may become more pronounced.