An evaluation of the experiences of special education teachers with the ability grouping method in self-contained, special education classrooms
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Educators have expectations for their roles to be effective in delivering instruction to students on various learning levels in self-contained classrooms. In this qualitative, applied leadership research study, the main themes explored were the experiences of special education teachers with the ability-grouping teaching method in special education, self-contained classrooms. The research questions used to direct this study were: (a) What are the experiences that special education teachers have with the ability-grouping instructional strategy in self-contained, special education classrooms? and (b) What are special education teacher perceptions of the ability-grouping teaching method related to student achievement? A qualitative research study design was used to explore special education teacher experiences with ability grouping in the classroom. Kindergarten to 12th-grade special education teachers from 17 diverse schools in Mississippi were interviewed to discuss the ability-grouping teaching method. The participants were selected through a snowball sampling method where participants recruited other participants for the study. The research data were collected by interviewing special education teachers individually using a semi-structured interview process. The interview transcripts were used to find themed responses, when a phrase stood out, or when the participant noted an experience that was influential. There were comparable responses among participants who felt there were advantages to ability grouping. The noted advantages from the participant interviews include: (a) differentiate instruction effectively; (b) yielded higher academic achievement and skills progression; (c) boosted confidence; (d) increased interaction amongst peers; (e) increased an interest in learning; (f) promoted leadership skills; (g) gave teachers opportunities to get better senses of students’ performances; (h) grouped with students who were on similar learning levels so they felt more comfortable with discussing the curriculum;(i) helped manage the classroom; (j) improved social skills; and (k)increased the amount of curriculum material that could be learned at a time. Educational leaders, teachers, and students will benefit from this study because educators will be able to serve students with disabilities more effectively through providing more research-based instructional practices, such as ability grouping, to improve student academic performance. Recommendations for future research include quantitative studies of special education teachers in multiple states to identify if the themes that caused special education teachers to have positive perceptions of ability grouping were similar and to study research ability-grouping practices in subjects such as science, technology, education, math (STEM), and the humanities.