Streaming pupils only benefits higher achievers

A review of the research, for an Australian context

Streaming pupils according to ability is ineffective, according to a literature review published in the Australian Journal of Education this month said streaming “does not improve academic outcomes for most students”.

Research found that streaming can benefit high ability students – who are often from higher socio-economic backgrounds – by extending them and allowing them to work with like-minded peers.

But this can be at the expense of students in lower streams, who are often from low socio-economic backgrounds. These students have fewer opportunities to interact with high-achieving role models.

The article discussed the practice of streaming and its effect on students’ academic, social and psychological learning outcomes and how teachers may mediate these effects.

As well as widening the achievement gap, researchers claim that streaming can entrench social disadvantage, segregating children according to their race and class.

“The widespread use of streaming in Australian schools seems contradictory to Australian social values including those of intercultural relationships and respect,” the article said.

The article’s co-author, University of Western Australia research student Olivia Johnston, said schools had embraced streaming because they believed it let them target their teaching to a narrower group of students.

“The reason streaming is happening is because teachers like it,” she said.

Professor John Hattie, director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute, was referenced in the review citing his 2009 evidence showing that streaming benefited students’ learning. His research, which was referenced in the review, found that “the effects on equity are profound and negative”.

“When you’re streaming, kids only get a certain level of the curriculum. It is better for educational outcomes if we don’t stream,” he told Fairfax Media.
But Monash University gifted education expert Leonie Kronborg said while she was opposed to streaming an entire year level, it could be beneficial for individual subjects.

“Teachers can better provide for students’ individual differences in learning. The kids will feel more motivated if they are with other like-minded kids,” Dr Kronborg said.

Article informed by The Age, Australia.

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