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An Evаluаtiоn of the Imрасt Ability grouping of Gifted Students on Sосiаl Sеlf-Cоnсерt and Aсаdеmiс Aсhiеvеmеnt in Secondary Schools Essay Example

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Еvаluаting the Imрасt Ability Grouping of Gifted Students on Sосiаl Sеlf-Соnсерt and Асаdеmiс Асhiеvеmеnt in Sесоndаry Sсhооls


This study sought to examine the impact of ability grouping of gifted students on social self-concept and academic achievement. The inconclusively vast literature on gifted students and classroom differentiation informed the objective of this paper, as there is need to provide empirical evidence on the impacts of ability grouping. An extensive literature review conducted in the report reveals this inconclusiveness and leads to the generation of a conceptual framework that shapes the entire study. A meta-analysis of 75, 469 participants covered in 33 distinct studies is used to examine how ability grouping programs influence the social self-concept and academic performance of students in secondary schools. The results show that ability grouping has positive and significant impacts on both academic achievement and the social self-concept. Ability grouping and curricular differentiation programs are found to be more effective when administered by teachers rather than other parties. The clearest outcome of the meta-analysis is that the social self-concept and academic achievement are not only the ultimate response variables of ability programs but are in themselves so intricately related such that one factor could lead to the other in a mutually reinforcing nexus.

Key Words: ability grouping, academic achievement, social self-concept, impact, students


1. Introduction 3

2. Literature Review 5

2.1 Social Self-Concept 6

2.2 Academic Achievement 9

2.3 Research Conceptual Framework 14

3. Research Design and Methodology……………………………………………………………14

3.1 Selection of Peer Reviewed Articles Relevant to the Study 15

3.1.1 Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria 18

3.2. Classification of Selected Studies 18

3.3 Dependent Variables 19

3.4 Methodological Variables 20

3.5 Calculation of Effects and General Analytic Strategies 21

4. Results and Discussion 22

4.1 Descriptive Characteristics of Selected Studies 22

4.2 Empirical Outcomes of Adopted Constructs 23

4.2.2 Interpretation of Key Outcomes 24

4.3 Discussion of Study Outcomes 24

5. Conclusion and Recommendations 28

5.1 Limitations of the Study and Future Research 29

1. Introduction

Learners with diverse abilities and gifts characterize learning institutions today and this has necessitated for a model of dynamic differentiation of learning curriculum and grouping of gifted students into different classrooms (Dixon et al., 2014; Callahan et al., 2015). In the past few decades, research focus has shifted to the evaluation of the grouping ability of gifted students in various dimensions. The evaluation of ability grouping for gifted students combines the ability tracking with the program aimed at augmenting the quality of learning (Preckel et al., 2010). Empirical studies conducted to evaluate the efficacy of these differentiated classroom programs on an outcome-based approach reveal that such programs usually improve the outcomes of learning for gifted students (Rogers, 2007). However, at this point, it is important to note that the focus of this paper is to evaluate the effects of this grouping on the social self-concept as academic achievement, an endeavor that no paper has ever focused on before. Some papers have tackled each of the effects differently, but even so, few have espoused the exact mechanisms through which the grouping of students based on giftedness and ability influences their social self-concept and academic achievement. According to Neihart (2007), the “peer ability grouping seems to have positive socio-affective effects for some gifted students, neutral effects for others, and detrimental effects on a few” (p. 334). This grouping of students according to their assessed abilities is also found to have an associated psychosocial cost that impacts negatively on the academic self-concept of the gifted learners (Goetz et al., 2008). These insights generated in the assessment of the program efficacy, which has led researchers to conduct more in-depth and situational studies since academic achievement, is the ultimate goal of the grouping program. In an ideal ability grouping scenario, both social self-concept and academic achievement in schools should be improved.

This study is more preoccupied with evaluating the impact ability grouping has on the academic achievement and social self-concept of gifted students in secondary schools by evaluating the teaching and learning strategies in these institutions through a meta-analytic approach. To achieve this objective, the paper seeks to espouse the specific mechanisms through which ability grouping affects the two constructs. According to Preckel et al. (2010), boredom is one of the mechanics through which grouping of differentiated classrooms influences the social self-concept of gifted students and ultimately, their academic achievement (p. 453). The findings as to the mechanics that influence the outcomes of ability grouping of gifted learners have been impinged upon by several intervening factors such as different curricular, different instructors and enrichment programs that impair the applicability of such study outcomes. In order to ascertain the effects of such studies, it is important that the gifted students be studied in reference to the non-gifted students after which the results are evaluated. Preckel & Brull (2008)used this approach and realised that the level of achievement of the non-gifted students (reference group) is critical in determining the level of achievement for the gifted students’ class. Moreover, empirical studies have also revealed that when students are placed in the same category as other gifted students, it is more likely to have an upward social comparison, which might work to suppress the academic self-perception of the gifted students in secondary schools (Wilson et al., 2014). Essentially, the underlying factors through which ability grouping influences academic achievement and social self-concept are so intricately related such that one leads to the other. This paper undertakes an extensive literature review and uses qualitative meta-analysis to espouse the channels through which ability grouping of gifted students in secondary schools influence academic achievement and social self-concept. It is because, despite its use for many years, impacts of ability grouping are still widely debated (Becker et al., 2014).

2. Literature Review

This section of the report systematically reviews the theoretical and empirical literature pertaining to the studies on impacts of ability grouping on the dimensions of social self-concept and academic achievement of gifted students. Given the distinctive nature of the studies in this discipline, this paper reviews the empirical works on the impacts of ability grouping on social self-concept and academic achievement, respectively, and ultimately considers empirical studies on the intersection of the two constructs.

2.1 Social Self-Concept

Social self-concept refers to an individual’s perception of self and the social acceptance of an individual by others and the nature of social interactions with the social environment around the individual (Hoogeveen et al., 2009; Tyler, 2014). Moreover, it has been ascertained that social self-context of gifted students usually evolves through the evaluation of a student’s social behaviour within the ability grouping (Vogl & Preckel, 2014). According to Hamm (2010), gifted students use their cognitive abilities to gain social preference among their peers (p. 23). More aptly, empirical literature has shown that the gifted students use a variety of techniques to gain social preference such as increasing their relevance to peers, denying their giftedness, becoming acceptable to peers, fear of failure and conformity to peer-group preferences (Hoogeveen et al., 2009). It has been noted, that these strategies usually assist the students to gain social preference from peers only that such strategies also work to suppress elements of social self-concept by making the gifted students feel indifferent to their ungifted colleagues (Becker et al., 2014). Further, there has been mixed results concerning the impact of ability grouping on the gifted students. It is found that the younger students usually have more preference for gifted students as compared to students in adolescence who have a natural inclination to adhere to social norms (Watermann et al., 2010).

Although most scholars seem to have a consensus that ability grouping increases the academic achievement of gifted students, literature on the significance of ability grouping in improving the social self-concept of gifted students provides mixed results. In some instances, empirical studies conducted with the gifted students as participants reveal that the giftedness acts as a social handicap that creates some form of a barrier between the gifted students and their peers (Frenzel et al., 2007). There is a social stigma associated with giftedness that makes the gifted students be perceived unfavorably by their peers (Hamm, 2010). Better still, other studies evaluated the impact of ability grouping for gifted and ungifted students to ascertain the group in which the categorisation advanced social self-concept. In this endeavor, most studies concluded that ability grouping results in negative outcomes as compared to the ungifted category (Seaton et al., 2009; Goldsmith, 2011; Rindermann & Heller, 2005). According to Becker et al (2014), the programs that entail ability grouping for gifted students are likely to be ineffective in the advancement of social self-concept especially in developing comparative constructs of education and poor performance in secondary schools, which explains why studies find no significance of ability grouping in school satisfaction (p. 556). More specific studies have been conducted to ascertain the exact dimension in which these programs lack. Frenzel (2007) concluded that differentiation programs deny students the “enjoyment” associated with learning while Ball et al. (2006) concluded that ability grouping deprives the learning process of internalisation and externalisation symptoms. Ability grouping programs for gifted students usually result in negative outcomes especially for the finding that it reduces the general motivation to learn and achieve (Watermann et al. (2010); Trautwein et al. (2006)). Augmenting from the empirical outcomes provided above, it clearly comes out that there are several intervening factors, which influence the outcomes of ability grouping for gifted students with respect to social self-concept. The factors that are most mentioned in empirical works include age or grade of the students, cognitive abilities and enrichment programs in the various institutions.

There are more interesting empirical research outcomes concerning the heterogeneity of the ability grouping for gifted students. Success and academic engagement usually associated with cognitive ability are generally influenced negatively by a specific student’s ranking in the respective ability group (Vogl & Preckel, 2013). Moreover, contrary to popular findings that the cognitive abilities of students usually aid them to gain a social grounding with their peers, empirical results show that this kind of grounding is only effective in elementary school (Vannatta et al., 2009). The ability grouping has also been found to take place more naturally than through the deliberate conditioning by learning institutions and is found to be greatly influenced by the innate ability of the students. Gifted students are likely to perceive each other more positively than when in a heterogeneous group of gifted and ungifted students (Vogl & Becker, 2013). In this scenario, gifted students will rate their social self-concept of acceptance more positively when the proportion of equally gifted learners is high (p. 53). The social self-conception of acceptance in many circumstances displays unstable effects in which the level of social acceptance rating increases when students are grouped according to innate abilities and decreases as soon as they are returned to the regular classrooms (Makel et al., 2012). The inconsistencies observed in the outcomes of social self-concept in relation to ability grouping are accounted for by the difference in ages under study, selection criteria for giftedness and the differentiated models of curricular (Vogl & Becker, 2013, p. 53).

The student-teacher relationship and classroom atmosphere have also been espoused as critical intervening factors that influence the impact of ability grouping on the social self-concept of gifted learners. The relationship that exists between the teacher and the student and ultimately the relationship between a student and peers influence the self-concept conditionings since they form the “specific configuration keys” that govern the social interactions in any learning environment (Goetz et al., 2008). The teacher-student relationships are mostly influenced by the cognitive ability of students and for this reason, in ability grouping for gifted students, it is often observed that the inter-relationships between teachers and students yield a desirable learning environment; therefore, a recipe for positive impacts on the social self-perception of gifted students as compared to their peers (Vogl & Preckel, 2013). It is observed that this finding aligns to the general empirical outcome in which the individuals are usually more engaged in activities for which they feel competent (Tyler, 2014). In a similar study, Neihart (2007) conducted an extensive literature review on the effects of ability grouping on socio-emotional constructs of learners and ascertained that not only do the classrooms provide learners with a learning experience but also a platform for identifying potential friends with similar interests and abilities. Essentially, a majority of empirical works revised in this section of the report provides mixed outcomes concerning the impact of ability grouping on the social self-concept of the learners. Nevertheless, a much clearer picture emerges across the literature review in which the researchers are instead more interested in the intervening variables that lead to varied outcomes. The literature review raises a question pertinent to curriculum differentiation as to what giftedness ought to imply. Moreover, the review of literature in this section also shows that teacher training, curricular programs and enrichment programs are key intervening variables in the development of social self-concept by gifted students.

2.2 Academic Achievement

The empirical literature on the impacts of ability grouping on the academic achievement of gifted students is well ahead of theoretical literature. There are varieties of literature that provide overwhelming evidence to the effect that ability grouping does indeed influence the academic achievement of students. Students of lower abilities have a lower academic self-perception of themselves in heterogeneous classes while the same students are found to exhibit a higher level of academic self-perception when categorised in a homogenous group (Preckel et al., 2010, p. 452). Moreover, the impacts of ability grouping on academic improvements are usually shaped by the “respective frame of reference” (Elliot & Dweck, 2005). In this view, it is implied that students use their colleagues as a reference category for their performances, which implies that grouping gifted students in a class may serve to improve their academic performance since they use the average academic performance of their immediate classroom to evaluate their individual academic standing. Research has also established that with an increase in the ability grouping of students, instructors will evaluate learners in groups with a larger proportion of gifted students (Zins & Elias, 2006). However, this framework of evaluating academic achievement of gifted students is not effective in the sense that some gifted students may lose the primal motivation if the positive feedback mechanism (like praises and rewards) reduces as compared to the time they were in regular classrooms and this ultimately worsens their academic performance (Marsh, 2005). The ability grouping of gifted students results in a homogeneous classroom in which students have almost equal innate abilities and the performance and academic self-perception mechanics work to reduce the improvement in academic performance usually conditioned by the differences in innate abilities and peer challenges (Marsh et al., 2008).

Most studies focusing on the effects of ability grouping and curriculum differentiation for students in gifted classes evaluate the performance of gifted students in ability grouping relative to the performance of their colleagues in regular classrooms. Brull (2008) conducted a study to evaluate the impact of ability grouping on gifted students relative to their colleagues in heterogeneous settings and concluded that students in ability grouping showed a systematic decline in academic performance which set in immediately they were placed in the “fast track” program. However, in some studies, it was observed that the academic performance of gifted students either showed intermittent declines or not even a decline in most instances and the variations were attributed to aspects of adaptability to new learning programs and classroom environments (Dai & Rinn, 2008). Moreover, the variations in students’ academic performances when placed in ability grouping programs are determined by components of the programs with respect to the enrichment programs, differentiated curricular and differences in teacher training (Marsh et al., 2008). However, Trautwein et al. (2005) espoused that the ability grouping of gifted students creates some degree of pride in the gifted students that fosters their academic self-perception, and by extension, academic performance. Essentially, the literature review in this section of the report, just like in the preceding section, identifies several variables as having influenced the impact of ability grouping on the academic performance of gifted students. A new trend that characterises literature on academic performance is a need to compare the academic performance of gifted students in ability grouping programs to those in regular classrooms.

In realisation of the fact that the impact of ability grouping of gifted students on their academic achievement is affected by several factors, there are studies that were conducted in settings that allowed the researchers to control some intervening factors. Preckel et al. (2008) conducted a study to determine the impact of classroom differentiation only in the gifted classes so that the effect of some factors that impinge on academic self-perception could be controlled in the outcomes. After controlling the individual student ability, it was found that ability grouping had a negative impact on the academic self-perception of students, and therefore, their respective performances. Intuitively, Preckel et al. (2008) managed to prove that the level of achievement of the reference group is significant in the formation of academic self-concept; therefore, improved academic performance in the gifted grouping. Marsh et al. (2007) conducted a controlled trial study that varied the level of performance (giftedness) of the reference group to observe the impact of this variation on the gifted students and concluded that the higher the performance level of the reference group, the higher the increase in academic improvement of gifted students in ability grouping programs. Changing to ability grouping programs produces ripple effects on academic performance of gifted students in the elementary stages since it entails changing to a “more demanding class” with a higher achievement level and learners have to adjust to new procedures, class environment, new curriculum and a more competitive atmosphere (Durlak et al., 2011). The lower academic self-perceptions and reduced academic performance observed in gifted classes are due to the likelihood of an increase in social comparisons in secondary schools, which works to dampen academic self-perception and ultimately academic performance. Drawing from the controlled trial studies, examining the effects of different intervening variables on the academic performance of gifted classes, it is quite evident that ability grouping creates a transition that impacts negatively on the academic performance of gifted students, albeit temporarily. Moreover, altering the reference group is a key factor that can be used to make the impacts of ability grouping of gifted students more pronounced.

Vogl & Preckel (2013) conducted a study focusing on the full-time ability grouping of gifted students and adopted quite a different approach to investigate how school-related attitudes influence the academic performance of gifted students. In this study, it was noted that individual interests in school and school-related activities affected the academic performance of gifted students more than any other factor. They noted that the high achievers at school reported a higher level of satisfaction especially concerning the curriculum instructions (p. 54). Ability grouping leads to improvement in academic performance since it has an associated motivation and challenge but also because peers with the same level of innate ability have a better understanding of each other especially from the teachers’ perspective (Henry, 2015). It cannot be wished away that the student-teacher relationship in gifted classrooms is more strengthened with effective feedback mechanisms and it serves to improve the academic performance of gifted students in ability grouping, at least in the long term (Rothenbusch et al., 2015). Whether in the long term or short term, some studies such as Ireson & Hallam (2005) did not observe any systematic differences when students were placed in ability grouping programs. From a general perspective, the knowledge base for the impacts of ability grouping of gifted students is inconclusive. However, from the extensive literature review, it can be seen that the outcomes differed systematically based on certain constructs like different criteria for identifying giftedness, program options (full-time summer schools), different age groups (grades) and the differences in educational systems. Moreover, the literature on effects of differentiation programs on academic performance laid great emphasis on the individual student ability, interests in school-related activities and the classroom environment (relationship with the teacher and other students).

2.3 Research Conceptual Framework

The literature review as provided in this report espouses that the explanatory variable of study, that is, the ability grouping of students influences the response variables (social self-concept and academic achievement) through various mechanisms such as increased academic self-perception and student-teacher relationship. Moreover, the literature review shows that there are several intervening variables such as enrichment programs and teacher training, which vary the mechanisms through which ability grouping influences social self-concept and academic achievement of gifted students. The diagram below therefore provides the conceptual framework adopted for the study.

An Evаluаtiоn of the Imрасt Ability grouping of Gifted Students on Sосiаl Sеlf-Cоnсерt and Aсаdеmiс Aсhiеvеmеnt in Secondary Schools

Figure 1:
Research Conceptual Framework

3. Research Design and Methodology

The study design adopted in this report is a qualitative meta-analysis. Meta-analysis is a technique that entails “systematically combining” qualitative data and information from several selected studies to come up with a single conclusion with a much stronger statistical power (Study Design 101, 2015). It is the most appropriate study design for this report since the empirical works in the discipline are highly varied in terms of their outcomes, which thereby calls for a study to evaluate and aggregate the outcomes to espouse the general outcomes of such studies. Since this procedure entails augmenting from already conducted studies, it is important that the studies selected for the meta-analysis should be selected according to some rigorous criteria to safeguard the validity and soundness of the ultimate outcomes.

3.1 Selection of Peer Reviewed Articles Relevant to the Study

In order to obtain the relevant articles for the meta-analysis, several databases were searched to obtain peer-reviewed journal articles. The databases searched included Education Resources Information Center (ERIC), Gifted Child Quarterly (GCQ), OEDB, Academic Search Elite (on EbscoHost), Expanded Academic ASAP (on Gale) and Google Scholar. The search terms used in the respective databases included “ability grouping”, “differentiated classrooms”, “academic achievement”, “social self-perception”, “gifted classrooms” and “impacts of ability grouping”. The initial search on all databases yielded more than 5,300 articles for review, but this number was reduced systematically with more specific search terms and a custom range on time. The required articles were from 2005 to 2015 in order to ensure that the eventual meta-analysis was based on the most recent articles in a time range of 10 years. It was necessary to ensure that the articles covered provided for a trend as well as the contemporary approaches to ability differentiation and its impacts. Moreover, it was necessary that a more specific search is conducted owing to the nature of the current paper that sought to examine the influence of a single (though multifaceted) variable on two response variables (social self-concept and academic achievement). For this reason, articles relating to impacts of ability grouping on academic achievement were searched differently from those pertaining to social self-concept. Moreover, since the literature review in the preceding section of the report had highlighted the intersection of the two response variables, articles that investigated the two variables jointly or as intricately related variables were searched. The latter saw the selection of Vogl & Preckel (2014) into the category of articles for meta-analysis since it is the most similar article to the current study except for the methodology and the directness of the response variables. For instance, while this report seeks to evaluate the impacts of ability grouping on social self-concept and academic achievement, Vogl & Preckel (2014) investigated the impact on social self-concept and school-related attitudes. Additionally, while the present study uses a qualitative meta-analysis, this paper employed the Parallelization Procedure. The narrowing down procedure to the most relevant article was systematic and is a situation that calls for a delicate balance between selecting the most relevant article and the best research methodology. Additionally, since the study seeks to provide a common ground for the impact of ability grouping on social self-concept and academic achievement, it was important to strike a balance between the studies that found significant positive impacts of ability grouping on social self-concept and academic achievement as well as those that found negative outcomes or indifferent outcomes all the same. The guiding principle in selection was the title, methodology, results and currency. The diagram below provides a framework that was used to enable selection of the most appropriate case studies for meta-analysis.

An Evаluаtiоn of the Imрасt Ability grouping of Gifted Students on Sосiаl Sеlf-Cоnсерt and Aсаdеmiс Aсhiеvеmеnt in Secondary Schools 1

Figure 2:
Framework for Selection of Articles

Own diagram

3.1.1 Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

Ultimately and as espoused in Figure 2 above, the studies eligible for meta-analysis were written in English, published between 2005 and 2015, touched on the development of at least one SEL skill targeted students mostly in secondary schools. Similarly, the search excluded studies that targeted students with pre-existing cognitive or behavioural problems and those that failed to adhere to certain fundamental ethical principles of research.

3.2. Classification of Selected Studies

It is important to classify the selected studies since they will form the basis of our analysis. It is important because meta-analysis essentially involves treating several case studies as a single aggregate and drawing a general conclusion from the aggregates (Scruggs et al., 2007). It will be particularly significant owing to the diverse outcomes expected from various studies as evident in the literature review. The table below provides a summary of the main articles selected for meta-analysis.

Publication Details

Percentage (%)

Dates of Publication


Source of Report

  1. Published

  2. Unpublished



Reliability of outcome measures

  1. Reliable

  2. Very Reliable

Main Participants (surveys)

  1. Students

  2. Parents, Teachers, Records

School Environment

Information on Socio-economic Status

Table 1: Descriptive Statistics of Selected Studies

3.3 Dependent Variables

This meta-analysis uses five different students’ outcomes as its dependent variables, outcomes that can be broadly classified into two broad categories as espoused in the conceptual research framework in Figure 1. As concerns the effects on social self-perception, the first dependent variable adopted by this meta-analysis is socio-emotional skills of students. In the analysis, this category encompasses evaluation of such skills as perspective taking, decision-making, conflict resolution and goal setting. Here, the outcomes were manifested in terms of acquisition of social skills or use of structured tasks that revealed certain outcomes. The second construct adopted by this meta-analysis is the attitude towards others. This category was necessary to cater for abstract and subjective individual constructs such as self-esteem and efficacy and general attitudes towards school-related activities. Additionally, this construct included drug abuse and acts of social justice. The third construct developed in the meta-analysis was positive social behaviour. This construct was reported by the instructors and the parents and entailed the ability of students to “get along” well with others. The report adopted this construct as a daily behaviour rather than a manifestation of character in hypothetical circumstances. The Elliot and Gresham’s Social Skills Rating Scale was used to classify the identified aspects of this construct for purposes of reliability and validity. The fourth construct used in this report entailed the academic performance. This category involves the assessments of performances in the classroom and school-related tasks. The results here were mostly presented as the performance of the gifted class as compared to the reference group. Alternatively, as was the case in Vogl & Preckel (2014), assessing academic performance entailed comparing performances of students before and after they enrolled in ability grouping programs. Finally, class conduct was included as a construct in the meta-analysis to measure the mechanics of academic excellence. In this category, analysis entailed assessing for behaviours such as compliance to curricular instructions, bullying and regularity of punishments. This metrics mostly manifested in the student self-reports and teacher accounts.

3.4 Methodological Variables

The fact that the meta-analysis approach employed in this report is much more concerned with obtaining generalized outcomes from several studies (case studies), three variables were dichotomously coded to investigate how the various methodological approaches might have influenced study results. For instance, where randomization to conditions and use of valid result assessments were employed, outcomes were bound to differ and, thus, a necessity for variable coding. Acceptability of outcome reliability was granted where α > 0.5. In studies where reliability was obtained by product moment correlations, the study used α > 0.65 while α > 0.7 was used where the rating was gauged by percentages. In this meta-analysis, it became necessary to code reliability and validity dichotomously owing to the fact that in all the studies selected, exact psychometric figures were not provided. Similarly, the meta-analysis adopted in this report, considered as a matter of priority, the coding of attrition in two ways owing to the two broad categories of studies selected; where the assessment was based on comparison to a reference frame and where the assessment was based on the pre and post behaviour.

3.5 Calculation of Effects and General Analytic Strategies

According to Wilson & Lipsey (2007), when conducting a meta-analysis, it is important to use the index of effect adjusted for any differences before interventions (classification into ability classrooms). The effects and strategies (ESs) were calculated such that the positive integers indicated a positive impact on the student over the non-intervention categories. In instances where effects and strategies are indicated as zero, the specific study conclusions were to the effect that the intervention (ability grouping) did not result in any significant change in the social self-conception and academic achievement of gifted students. For purposes of eliminating possible sample bias, this analysis obtained a 95% confidence interval for the mean of the ESs. The maximum likelihood estimation procedure was adopted in the random effects model used for the analysis. Certain other measures of statistics were used as specified in the following sections to assess the degree of heterogeneity since this was espoused as a key intervening variable by the literature review conducted earlier on in the study.

In summary, this section of the report (Research Design and Methodology) has espoused the meta-analytic approach adopted by the report and especially the techniques that would make this approach feasible. More aptly, the studies vary greatly from the methodologies to the presentation of outcomes but this specific section was dedicated to smoothing the differences such that it would be possible to draw a general conclusion from the selected studies.

4. Results and Discussion

This section of the report presents the outcomes of the present study that essentially entails the aggregated outcomes of the selected studies. The study findings are systematically organized beginning with the descriptive characteristics of the selected studies such that in-depth discussions and analysis will be conceived in the context of these descriptions.

4.1 Descriptive Characteristics of Selected Studies

This study selected 33 studies that involved 75,469 students, an average of 2287 participants per study. As already summarized in Table 1 in the preceding section of the report, all the study findings were reported between 2005 and 2015. Moreover, a majority of the papers were published in peer-reviewed journals (79.31%), while some were not published (20.69%). Studies that had employed randomized designs were more (65.52%) than those that resorted to other approaches (34.48%). Most of the selected studies (72.41%) were found to be of a higher level of reliability given the measures attributed to them by the metrics set in section 3.4 of this report while only 27.59% had a comparatively lower level of reliability. In the selected studies, 79.31% of them had students as the primary respondents and sources of data while the remaining 20.69% relied on teacher and parent accounts or school records. This is not strange especially given that most studies sought to obtain data on some abstract and subjective constructs of the very subjects of the program interventions that provided relevant information concerning students’ social self-concept and aspects of academic achievement. The number of studies that were conducted in secondary schools in urban settings were slightly more than those conducted in rural settings (58.62% to 41.38%). Just as was the case in another landmark meta-analytic study on impacts on ability grouping, Durlak et al (2011), only a handful of the selected studies (17.24%) were found to provide any form of information on socio-economic status of the respondents in the demographic characteristics while a majority of the studies (82.76%) did not provide such information.

4.2 Empirical Outcomes of Adopted Constructs

Using the fixed-effects model and calculating the confidence intervals to ascertain the significance of variables, the table below presents the general outcomes of the model estimation given the five dependent variables adopted in Section 3.3 in the preceding section of this report.

Academic Performance


Positive Social Behaviour

Socio-emotional Skills

Class Conduct

SEL Skills

Total Sample

0.29 to 0.37

0.13 to 0.29

0.09 to 0.17

0.22 to 0.32

0.29 to 0.33

0.39 to 0.57

0.31 to 0.43

0.17 to 0.32

0.11 to 0.19

0.22 to 0.32

0.30 to 0.43

0.41 to 0.60

Class by Parents, Subordinate Staff

0.19 to 0.27

0.15 to 0.29

0.13 to 0.25

0.22 to 0.32

0.22 to 0.30

0.49 to 0.56


0.25 to 0.36

0.19 to 0.34

0.14 to 0.33

0.22 to 0.32

0.29 to 0.37

0.49 to 0.67

**p ≤ 0.05

Table 2:
Mean Effects and Confidence Intervals (α = 0.5) For Aggregated Sample

4.2.2 Interpretation of Key Outcomes

As evident in Table 2, all the five mean values (the ESs) for all the 33 studies ranging (0.20 – 0.64). All these means are therefore positive and statistically significant (from zero) which confirms the hypothesis that SEL programs usually influence learning outcomes positively. The columns in the table also display a systematic consistency, which implies that the controls provided for in Sections 3.4 and 3.5 of this report were effective in smoothing irregularities. On an average, the table shows that all the 75,469 students investigated in all the 33 studies showed improved academic performance, attitudes, social behaviour and social skills. Moreover, the students also exhibited positive class conduct (since positive constructs were coded to yield positive outcomes/conformity to norms). As shown in the table, programs conducted by teachers yield a more positive outcome implying that the ability grouping programs undertaken by teachers yield beneficial outcomes for learners as compared to classes by non-teaching staff.

4.3 Discussion of Study Outcomes

The findings presented in the preceding section of this report provide substantive evidence to the effect that ability grouping significantly improves the academic performance of gifted students, their attitudes towards self and others and improved class conduct. Additionally, with respect to social self-conception, the aggregated outcomes of 33 studies espouse that the ability grouping of gifted students improves the social behaviour and socio-emotional skills of the students. Much as most of the selected studies did not include follow-up assessments, the few included depicted a variation in results but all of which were statistically significant. In general, the outcomes of this study confirm the finding of other researchers that have conducted similar studies to assess the impact of curriculum differentiation and ability grouping such as Wilson & Lipsey (2007) and Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor & Schellinger (2011). However, this report differs significantly from past endeavours by examining the school-related social skills development programs and ultimately investigating the impacts of such programs on the social behaviour, academic performance and class conduct. It is not surprising that the most statistically significant outcome on effects and strategies was on SEL skills (ES = 0.64). This group involved the assessment of the social skills development that were targeted by the ability grouping SEL programs. The skills assessed here included conflict resolution skills, problem-solving, empathy for others and stress management. The respective skills were combined in the meta-analysis conducted in this report since they are found to have overlapping effects in enhancing cognitive abilities, behaviour, communication and positive emotional response (Durlak et al., 2011).

The meta-analysis reveals yet another important finding that the teaching staff was much more effective in the administration of ability grouping programs. The implication of this outcome is that ability grouping programs can be incorporated into the regular school programs without necessarily outsourcing for external human capital. Much as this study was focused on ability grouping of gifted students in secondary schools, it clearly comes out that even within the various grades in secondary schools, there is no significant difference in the impacts of the program. Moreover, such programs are also successful in urban and rural areas alike much as the programs have not been extensively implemented in rural areas. The implication of this outcome to the endeavour of this paper is that there are no controls for the implementation of ability grouping and curriculum differentiation in suburban schools. The fact that both urban and suburban schools were studied here almost in equal measure implies that the findings herein can have a broadened applicability. For purposes of practice and education policy, the ES score of 0.29* for academic performance, which is usually the key target of ability grouping programs, is noteworthy. The outcomes herein are significant in the sense that they add to the growing literature on SEL programming, which is associated with ability grouping of gifted students by espousing that such programs increase a learner’s commitment to school and school-related activities. The study, by developing five overlapping variables (in Section 3.3) and ultimately obtaining final results attributable to these variables, also confirms that social self-conception and academic achievement are not distinct impacts, albeit from the effective mechanisms perspective. Essentially, the meta-analysis has confirmed that the social self-concept and academic achievement are not only the ultimate response variables of ability programs, but are in themselves so intricately related that one factor could lead to the other in a mutually reinforcing nexus. The meta-analysis, viewed from a different perspective, seems to have amplified the key outcomes of certain empirical studies whose findings were not so precise like those in Elliot & Dweck (2005), Durlak et al. (2011) and Vogl & Preckel (2014). These studies espoused that the learners, who are more informed of their academic competencies, are self-disciplined and have a good class conduct, usually work harder to excel even in the face of certain systematic challenges. Zins & Elias (2005) and Missett et al. (2014), on their part, found out that the learners who employ social skills such as problem-solving approaches and apt decision-making skills in overcoming obstacles, usually perform better academically than students who lack in such social skills. Essentially, the results of the meta-analysis have provided a binding outcome that provides an intersection for most empirical case studies selected and provide a justified standpoint. It is important to note here that the discussion of outcomes was subject to the assumption that α = 0.5.

5. Conclusion and Recommendations

The overriding objective of this study was to examine the impacts of ability grouping of gifted students on the social self-concept and academic achievement of students in secondary schools. The extensive literature review provided a conceptual framework that shaped the entire study. Using a meta-analytic approach covering 75, 469 students in 33 empirical studies, this study has ascertained that ability grouping (synonymous with LES programs), improves academic achievement and enhances social self-conception. Moreover, the meta-analysis confirms the intricate relationship between social self-concept and academic achievement. Essentially, the meta-analysis has confirmed that social self-concept and academic achievement are not only the ultimate response variables of ability programs but are in themselves so intricately related that one factor could lead to the other in a mutually reinforcing nexus. Teachers have also been found to be the most effective administrators of ability grouping programs. The study has found no significant difference between the impacts of ability grouping on social self-concept and academic performance of students in urban areas compared to those in suburban regions. In light of the outcomes in this meta-analysis, this report makes the following recommendations.

  1. The teaching staff should be tasked with the direct administration of ability grouping programs.

  2. Differentiated curriculum and enrichment programs in ability grouping programs should lay equal emphasis on building social self-conception just as is the case with improving academic achievement.

  3. Every ability-grouping program should have a corresponding reference frame for evaluation of performance standards.

  4. An integrative approach is required in identifying giftedness and implementing ability grouping programs rather than the use of piecemeal policies.

  5. Transition to gifted classes should be “smoothened” through the use of special orientation and instructional programs to avoid ripple effects that may be counterproductive to learning.

  6. All stakeholders (teachers, students, parents, community) should be involved in developing a model of curriculum differentiation for gifted classes.

5.1 Limitations of the Study and Future Research

This study only focused on 33 articles covering 75, 469 students. This reduces its strength especially when it is to be used in practice and policy implementation. Additionally, the meta-analytic technique employed used a variety of controls to augment results of 33 studies but the fact is that there is no universal technique of aggregating findings from 33 different research designs complete with situational assumptions. Therefore, the inherent limitations of meta-analytic methodology apply to the current paper. Another shortfall of the report is that it does not provide adequate demographic information concerning the 75, 469 students yet information such as socio-economic status and gender might be important in determining social self-conception and academic achievement. In light of these limitations, future research should adopt the use of integrated approaches and incorporate more studies to confirm the outcomes of this paper or rather generate more knowledge to this discipline of study. Nevertheless, future research needs to provide more details on the mechanisms linking social self-conception and academic achievement.


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