(KYTX) - A new study shows more teachers are placing elementary students in ability-based groups to help them learn- mainly in reading and math skills.
The numbers have skyrocketed. That's according to a study from the Brookings's Institution Brown Center on American Education.
From 1998 to 2009, the percentage of fourth grade teachers who used ability-based reading groups jumped from 28% to 71%. From 1996 to 2011, the number of fourth grade teachers using math learning groups increased from 40% to 61%.
Private and public schools in East Texas are among those using group learning methods to help their students excel.
"They love to interact anyway. It's a natural for them."
Judy Miller teaches fourth grade at Grace Elementary school in Tyler. She says group learning is key in the classroom.
"Sometimes you want them to be close to the same. And, sometimes you want them to be on different levels to help each other."
"We've seen some of the students who were struggling make it to the end of the year in a subject and will be excelling." says Elise Carter, Director of Marketing and Communication for Grace.
She says ability-based learning in groups is mainly concentrated in reading at Grace Elementary.
"It's great with the reading."
The groups are determined by STAAR testing results.
"Depending on where they land in that testing, they're going to be assigned different books and literature. And, then they're in different groups."
Tyler ISD uses a similar teaching method it calls "small group instruction." After a core lesson, the teacher will break up the classroom into small groups based on how well students are grasping the material. Those with the district say they find it successful from Pre-K all the way through high school.
Miller says peers can be great teachers too.
"If I think the student beside them knows exactly how to do it, I'm going to say, 'could you help them for just a minute?' That's a great way to learn. "
Those with Grace and Tyler ISD agree group learning allows them to consistently meet the needs of each student on a daily basis.
Small group instruction based on ability is different than another group-based learning method called "tracking." Tracking keeps students working with the same group of children day after day. And, the groups are usually removed from the rest of the classroom. Neither Grace, nor Tyler ISD say they use tracking.
Many people might consider ability-based group- learning an "old school" style of teaching, but it has also faced controversy over the years. The practice of separating students by ability was criticized because many felt it ultimately came down to separating students by class and race.
USA Today reports the practice has become more acceptable and popular now partly because of the No Child Left Behind act. It requires educators to focus on students struggling in reading and math.