Degree Name

EdD (Doctor of Education)


Educational Leadership

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Russell O. Mays

Committee Members

Lori Marks, Louise L. MacKay, Russell F. West


The topic of ability level grouping of students for instructional purposes is one of the most studied areas of research in educational literature. However, because of the inconclusive findings in the literature, no clear answer to the question of whether homogeneous or heterogeneous grouping is in the best educational interest of students has been established. Middle level administrators play a particularly important role in the debate concerning the use of ability grouping in individual schools because the pattern for future educational tracks of students is established at the middle level. An exploration of the factors that affect the decision making processes of middle school principals concerning whether to implement homogeneous versus heterogeneous grouping was deemed to be important in lending understanding to practitioners in the field faced with the responsibility of implementation of middle school programming.

The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the factors that influence middle level principals in the east Tennessee region when deciding to implement homogeneous or heterogeneous grouping of students in their schools. Data were collected through a series of audio taped interviews and transcribed for inductive analysis. Themes that emerged from the data analysis of the open-ended interviews were deducted into findings presented within the context of reviewed literature.

The impact of student achievement, standardized test accountability, social factors that affect students, the perceptions of teachers and parents, programming for special education and gifted students, the impact of educational research, and the personal philosophies of the research participants concerning homogeneous versus heterogeneous instruction emerged as influential themes that affected principals' decisions to implement ability level grouping. Specific recommendations for educational practice included the implementation of ability grouping at the middle level exclusively in the areas of mathematics, language, and reading, flexible scheduling that allows for movement of students between groups, and changing the yearly assignment of teachers to a specific ability group for instruction. The need for additional quantitative and qualitative research was also suggested.

Document Type

Dissertation - unrestricted


Copyright by the authors.