Frontline Learning Research

What do students think about differentiation and within-class achievement grouping?

Written by Emilie Prast, Kim Stroet, Arnout Koornneef, Tom F. Wilderjans (23 March 2023)

Differentiation and achievement grouping are frequently implemented practices to adapt education to students’ varying educational needs based on achievement level. Potential didactical and socioemotional advantages and disadvantages of these practices have been discussed in the literature. However, little is known about the perspective of students themselves. This study examined how students (N = 428) perceived differentiation and within-class homogeneous achievement grouping in primary mathematics education, with attention for potential differences between students of diverse achievement levels. Students of Grades 1, 3 and 5 completed a questionnaire about various differentiated mathematics activities and (if applicable) within-class achievement grouping. In line with the didactical perspective on differentiation, extended instruction and less difficult tasks were appreciated most by low-achieving students whereas more difficult tasks were appreciated most by high-achieving students. Students of all achievement groups had largely positive attitudes about achievement grouping and about their own achievement group. However, some differences between achievement groups were found, with less favourable results for students placed in low achievement groups. Students’ responses to open-ended questions provided additional insights into the reasons behind students’ evaluations of differentiation and achievement grouping. Differences between grade levels were also explored.

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