ABILITY GROUPING . The placement of students with purportedly similar abilities or attainment into the same classroom, educational program, or instructional group. The placement may range from temporary groups in individual classrooms to setting up long-standing different classes and programs in individual schools. Where placement by ability is more permanent and classes are based on this placement, the practice is called tracking. At the secondary level the term is used to describe the assignment of students to levels of classes such as vocational, general, college prep, honor, or AP (advanced placement) or to a recommended four-year plan based on a student's post-high-school plans, college prep or academic, vocational, or general. At the elementary level this practice is generally called ability grouping, and students are placed into fast, average, or slow groups within classes or in separate classes. About one-quarter of the nation's school districts use cross-classroom ability groups.
Meier, Stewart, and England ( 1989) define academic grouping as the generic term encompassing four components: ability grouping, curriculum tracking, special education, and compensatory education.* Thus ability grouping is primarily for elementary-school students as they are sorted by ability into groups in separate classrooms or within-classroom groups such as the "bluebirds, robins, and sparrows" for reading, math, and spelling. "Curriculum tracking generally is a secondary school practice and involves the assignment of students by ability and/or interest to different classes, or 'tracks' of study that usually have different curricula (e.g., college-bound, general business, vocational)" (23). Special education is for students who are not considered able to benefit from the regular curriculum, and thus the students are placed in a special curriculum of special