Cover: How Should We Measure the Effect of Ability Grouping on Student Performance?

How Should We Measure the Effect of Ability Grouping on Student Performance?

Published 2003

by D. I. Rees, Dominic J. Brewer, L. M. Argys

Purchase Print Copy

Add to Cart Paperback4 pages Free

In this issue, Betts and Shkolnik [Betts, J.R., & Shkolnik, J.L. (1999) The Effects of Ability Grouping on Student Math Achievement and Resource Allocation in Secondary Schools, Economics of Education Review, vol. 19, issue 1, p. 1-15] argue that studies that compare students in tracked versus untracked classes overestimate the impact of tracking on student achievement by not adequately controlling for student ability and motivation. In this paper, the authors discuss the shortcomings of their analysis and reinterpret their results. The data used by Betts and Shkolnik do not allow one to accurately classify tracked and untracked classroom, since identification of heterogeneous classes is impossible. They compare ability-grouped students in schools that report formally engaging in tracking to ability-grouped students in schools that track only informally. Our interpretation of their results suggests that there is little difference in student performance and resource allocation between schools that formally and informally group students by ability.

Originally published in: Economics of Education Review, v. 19, no. 1, 1999, pp. 17-20.

This report is part of the RAND reprint series. The Reprint was a product of RAND from 1992 to 2011 that represented previously published journal articles, book chapters, and reports with the permission of the publisher. RAND reprints were formally reviewed in accordance with the publisher's editorial policy and compliant with RAND's rigorous quality assurance standards for quality and objectivity. For select current RAND journal articles, see External Publications.

This document and trademark(s) contained herein are protected by law. This representation of RAND intellectual property is provided for noncommercial use only. Unauthorized posting of this publication online is prohibited; linking directly to this product page is encouraged. Permission is required from RAND to reproduce, or reuse in another form, any of its research documents for commercial purposes. For information on reprint and reuse permissions, please visit

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.