05 SES 01, Combatting Underachievement and Criminality
Social inclusion of children and young people and the reduction of early school leaving (ESL) to less than 10% by 2020 is a central concern of the European educational policy, being seen as a way to prevent unemployment, poverty and social exclusion (EC, 2010).
The processes that lead to ESL are complex and involve institutional as social, family and individual factors. After being identified as one of the European member-states with higher rates of ESL, Portugal, in the last decade, is clearly coming closer to the desired figures. As in other European countries, several programmes have been designed and developed in order to overcome the issue (Magalhães et al, 2015; RESL.EU, 2014).
External assessment of one of those programs indicates a decreasing of ESL and retention rates in the schools involved. Notwithstanding, these results have been questioned on the grounds of the quality of the learning they provide (Dias, 2013; Antunes & Barros, 2014; Sá & Antunes, 2012).
This paper is part of a research project founded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology, “EDUPLACES - Educating places: practices, voices and pathways of inclusive education”, focused on socio-educational inclusion practices. The project research questions are: which processes and factors, subjects, action rationales and (institutional, local, community) partnerships contribute to building local inclusive education practices, in the views of actors involved? which (social, institutional, biographical) processes and factors stop the negative spiral of school underachievement, school dropout and ESL and favour the youngsters’ remobilization to learn and build successful academic pathways?
The research design consists of a multiple-case study of eleven observation units in four Portuguese countries, in the context of two national Programs targeted to overcome school underachievement and ESL and promote social inclusion. Based on a triangulation of sources and a set of criteria derived from literature review, a portfolio of eleven inclusive socio-educational practices was characterized.
Analysis of the practices allowed a typology of inclusive practices: Ability Grouping; Study Support; Mediation and Pedagogical Differentiation. This presentation is centred in the ability grouping.
There are many different definitions, nuances and empirical approaches of ability grouping (Loveless, 2013. Ability grouping, or homogeneous grouping, is defined as the separation of same-grade school children into groups or classes based on school aptitude. This separation may occur in all subjects or only in particular subjects (e.g. reading and mathematics) and grouping may occur based on test scores or school records of grades (Kulik, 1992).
In the 1970s and 1980s, a barrage of studies criticized ability grouping, stressing issues like its impact on self-esteem, effectiveness of instruction and equity among minority groups (Braddock & Slavin, 1992). In the last years, we witness a resurgence of ability grouping and the term “differential instruction” is been used to define grouping students by prior achievement or skills level (Loveless, 2013). However, despite the extensive research on this topic, it’s hard to find clear cut conclusions about the advantages and disadvantages of ability grouping. As pointed out by Ireson & Hallam (1999:343), “Those favouring structured grouping tend to stress its effectiveness in terms of pupil achievement, whereas those against stress the inequity of the system and its social consequences.” In addition, the evidence suggests that “different grouping programs produce different effects” (Kulick, 1992:ix) and that “There appear to be complex interactions between grouping, teaching methods, teacher attitudes, the pacing of lessons and the ethos of the school” (Ireson & Hallam, 1999:343).
In this presentation we share some results about the perspectives of program local coordinators, teachers and social work professionals about ability grouping practices.
The option for a qualitative approach (Seale et al., 2004) is justified with the concern to understand from within and the aspiration to understand the plurality of rationales and meanings. The study design intends to study the two national programs aiming to overcome school underachievement and ESL by means of a multiple-case study (Yin, 1989) of eleven observation units in four Portuguese countries. In the first phase/year, inclusive and successful practices (case practices) were characterized in each observation unit through the triangulation of information: relevant documents, statistical data analysis and semi-structured interviews with institutional program leaders. This allowed an outcome of a panel of inclusive practices and a portfolio of inclusive practices, based on relevant criteria, as well a tentative typology of the eleven practices. The second phase/year goes further, listening and observing the perspectives of actors involved in each educational inclusive practice through questionnaires, semi-structured individual interviews, focus groups (youngsters, families, teachers and other professionals) and direct observations. So far, the analysis of each case-practice was enlarged by the views of actors involved in each educational inclusive practice through focus groups to teachers and other professionals that are involved in the identified practices (psychologists, sociologists, sociocultural animators,among others). In the third phase/year, a panel of youngsters will be interviewed trying to provide data for the understanding of the factors and processes (social, institutional and biographical dimensions) involved in building their successful academic pathways; youngsters with an irregular school pathway, that have been involved in the analyzed practices - which were observed to turn back school failure and are now successfully concluding (or have concluded) their academic degree.
First results show that, out of the eleven practices, six are school-based (SB) and seven are community-based (CB). Three of the six SB are ability grouping practices, although with some differences among them: Practice 1, one class (5th to 9th grade); Practice 2 (Mother “classes/ “Nest” groups (1st to 9th grade); Practice 3 (Three classes coming from three “Mother” classes, 5th to 6th grade). From the perspective of program local leaders, the advantages of ability grouping are: Improvements in student outcomes (learning, integration, autonomy); Improvements in collaborative work, inter-institutional articulation and teacher professional development; curricular and organizational flexibility. The perspective of the coordinators interviewed and the analysis of data seem to embrace the opinions of Kulik (1992), Braddock & Slavin (1992), indicating that these practices allow teachers to work closely with the students and tailor the pace and content of instruction to students' needs, improving (in several different ways) student achievements. In Practice one, where a fixed grouping for all subjects is adopted, there are some evidences supported by documental data analysis that relativize the improvement of student achievements and highlights on the risk of connotation-labeling issues which, according to Braddock & Slavin (1992), can affect self-esteem of those students in the lowest achieving groups, as it is the case of practice one. Overall, it is still not clear the degree of normative success and if that success reflects the acquisition of knowledge, skills and attitudes corresponding to the level of school education that these students attend. The three ability grouping practices under study may have different results in the studied groups that should be read carefully, either from the effectiveness in achieving the intended result, or in particular in the equality of opportunities to knowledge access.
Antunes, F., Barros, R. (2014). Reconstruir o espaço de ação educacional ou localizar problemas escolares? In M. Carvalho; A. Loureiro; C. Ferreira, Proceedings XII SPCE Congress. Vila Real: UTAD. Braddock, J. & Slavin, R. (1992). Why ability grouping must end: achieving excellence and equity in American education. Baltimore, MD: Center for Research on Effective Schooling for Disadvantaged Students Dias, M. (2013). Education and Equality in Portugal: The role of priority Education policies. Cypriot Journal of Educacional Sciences, 8(1), 132-143. European Commission (2010). Reducing early school leaving. Accompanying document to the proposal for a Council recommendation on policies to reduce early school leaving. Brussels. http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_SDDS/EN/edat_esms.htm, 9-03-2013. Ireson, J. & Hallam, S. (1999). Raising Standards: is ability grouping the answer? Oxford Review of Education, Vol. 25, No. 3. Kulik J. (1992). An analysis of the research on ability grouping: Historical and contemporary perspectives. Storrs, CT: National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented. Loveless, T. (2013). How well are American students learning? With sections on the latest international tests, tracking and ability grouping, and advanced math in 8th grade (Vol. 2). Washington. DC: Brown Center on Educacional Policy . Brookings Institution. Magalhães, A., Araújo, H. C., Macedo, E., Rocha, C. (2015). Early school leaving in Portugal: Policies and actors’ interpretations. Educação, Sociedade e Culturas, 45, 97-119. RESL.EU (2014). Policies on Early School Leaving in nine European countries: a comparative analysis. Belgium: University of Antwerp. Project RESL.EU. Sá, V. & Antunes, F. (2012). Uma outra educação? Um lugar de exclusão Sobre os Cursos de Educação e Formação na voz de alunos e professores. In Thomé & Almeida, Educação: História e Política, 57-99. Campinas: Mercado de Letras. Seale, C., Gobo, G., Jaber, G., Silverman, D. (2004). Qualitative research practice. London: Sage. Yin, R. (1989). Case study research Design and Methods. Newbury Park: Sage.
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