Splitting classes based on math, reading, or other developmental indicators…

Yesterday I sent out a question to a number of listservs I am active on, each saying essentially the following:

Greetings all,

…(W)e are meeting with our administration tomorrow to discuss the topic of offering regular and advanced levels of sophomore (high school) physical science.

The other physics teacher and I have thought for years that we could target the classes to our student population better if we divided them into lower and higher math levels.  We spend an inordinate amount of time teaching remedial math (e.g., spending four to six weeks trying to teach the meaning of and how to find slope of a line) to the students with lower math levels, and find it very difficult to present the physics  material to classes that are so broad as to have students ranging from 3rd/4th grade math&reading to those  who are two or more years beyond their academic grade level.

We were told that we are switching to a sophomore physical science course, and we want to take the  opportunity to steer students into “Physical Science” and “Advanced Physical Science” based on some academic indicator (such as concurrent math class or specific class math grade).  There is opposition in our district to offering different sections of this course.

I have been running searches of The Physics Teacher and American Journal of Physics, hoping to find  research on grouping students by math and/or reading level.  So far I have not found any research one
way or the other…perhaps my search terms are not good. If you have ideas, would you please email me directly post below so that I see it immediately?  We are meeting on this topic tomorrow (Wednesday) and it’s imperative that we present our case as best we can.

I’m also more than happy to reverse what I am recommending if the research says that broad ability levels (2nd grade–college) are beneficial in the same physics/chemistry/physical science classroom.

I’ve been meaning to start a couple of blogs, one for my classes (day-to-day teaching, aimed at my students) and one for physics education (aimed at fellow teachers and at the physics education research community).  This seems like as good a time as any, and I should be able to reach, read, and respond on this blog even from computers at work.

What say you, blog-o-sphere?  Should we be pushing to differentiate students into two class levels, or is it better to keep them in one heterogeneous group?

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