What’s the Role of Tech in Student Grouping?

The New York Times recently ran a piece on the quiet reemergence of grouping students by ability in the classroom. After falling out of favor some 20 years ago because of charges of inequality, it’s slipped back into the mainstream:

“A new analysis from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a Census-like agency for school statistics, shows that of the fourth-grade teachers surveyed, 71 percent said they had grouped students by reading ability in 2009, up from 28 percent in 1998. In math, 61 percent of fourth-grade teachers reported ability grouping in 2011, up from 40 percent in 1996.”

The question of what role technology plays into this trend is an important one: if grouping by ability helps teachers better manage students, can technological tools help reduce the downsides of doing so?

The article notes that teachers have “become more comfortable using computers to allow children to learn at different speeds”—and in interviews, teachers said one challenge of grouping by ability is the need to create multiple lesson plans and track student progress more closely.

These certainly seem like tasks tailor-suited to software that could be customized to specific curricula and environments.