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Friday, September 23, 2011

Words do matter in leveling debate

Letter to the Editor

When The Telegraph is reporting on the issue of academic leveling, the phrase “achievement grouping” should be used rather than “ability grouping” (Sept. 21: “Change would delay leveling / Proposal gives those in middle schools time to show where they are”).

I am a retired educator of many years, and I can state confidently that innate intellectual ability does not always result in satisfactory academic achievement.

Factors such as low socioeconomic status and a lack of consistent parental involvement contribute significantly to students’ lack of academic success. Most students who do poorly in school are poor or are identified as being in need of special education services.

And it is worth noting that most students in need of special education services are from impoverished or minority households. It is safe to say the majority of these students are not intellectually deficient. Their true intellectual ability is masked by the aforementioned factors, which contribute to their poor academic performance.

Making the distinction between “ability grouping” and “achievement grouping” is not just a matter of mere semantics. “Low ability” implies little potential for growth and improvement. “Low achievement,” when perceptually decoupled from preconceptions about a student’s intellectual potential, opens the door to unlimited progress.

We must always be mindful that poor academic performance does not necessarily indicate a lack of intellectual capacity. To believe otherwise is to condemn potentially academically capable students to a school career, and possibly a lifetime, of failure.

Peggy L. Trivilino