Educators can use grouping strategies to allow gifted students access to appropriate levels of challenge and complexity. Almost any form of grouping used will provide an academic or achievement gain to gifted learners with researchers reporting positive social and emotional gains as well. Grouping often is the “most effective and efficient means for schools to provide more challenging coursework, giving these children access to advanced content and providing them with a peer group.” [1, p. 4]

  • In looking at the various types of grouping strategies used with gifted learners, the options can be divided into ability grouping and performance-based grouping. Specific strategies for grouping include regrouping for specific instruction, cluster grouping, and within-class/flexible grouping. [2] Students may also experience between-class grouping or grouping by interest, as in the practice of enrichment clusters. [3]
  • Educators and districts should note that ability grouping is not synonymous with tracking. As one set of researchers noted, “Grouping is flexible, targeted, and not permanent; tracking historically refers to an inflexible approach to placing students in tracks from which they could not move. Tracking is unquestionably bad; ability grouping is arguably good.” [4, p. 31]
  • Ability grouping was suggested as a way for schools to promote high levels of achievement and shrink excellence gaps among their populations. [5] When used properly, ability grouping allows for flexibility, letting students move—either up or down—during their educational careers. Flexible ability grouping allows schools to match a student’s readiness with instruction, “delivering the right content to the right student at the right pace and at the right time.” Additionally, grouping allows students to learn alongside others who have learn at similar rates, possess similar levels of knowledge, and share similar goals, resulting in a peer group where students can challenge one another. [6]
  • Grouping can contribute to overall achievement gains as well. Gifted third-graders who participated in a cluster grouping study were shown to have significant gains in testing than nonclustered peers. In addition, the study found that clustering provided these students more direct contact with ability-level peers and the chance to explore content more deeply. Because the cluster grouping encouraged teachers to naturally implement differentiation strategies, the researchers found that the cluster grouping strategy actually benefited other students in the classrooms that included clustering as well. [7]
  • In a study of between-class grouping in combination with curriculum designed for high-ability students (Project M3), researchers found that mathematically talented students were able to grow their conceptual understanding in advanced geometry and measurement topics, including a greater ability to explain their reasoning when exploring these concepts. [8]

[1, 2] Rogers, K. B. (2006). A menu of options for grouping gifted students. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
[3] Renzulli, J. S., & Reis, S. M. (2014). The schoolwide enrichment model: A how-to guide for talent development (3rd ed.). Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
[4, 5] Plucker, J. A., Burroughs, N., & Song, R. (2010). Mind the (other) gap! The growing excellence gap in K-12 education. Bloomington: Indiana University, Center for Evaluation and Educational Policy. Retrieved from
[6] Olszewski-Kubilius, P. (2013). Setting the record straight on ability grouping. Education Week. Retrieved from
[7] Pierce, R. L., Cassady, J. C., Adams, C. M., Speirs Neumeister, K. L., Dixon, F. A., & Cross, T. L. (2011). The effects of clustering and curriculum on the development of gifted learners’ math achievement. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 34, 569–594.
[8] Gavin, M. K., Casa, T. M., Adelson, J. L., Carroll, S. R., & Sheffield, L. J. (2009). The impact of advanced curriculum on the achievement of mathematically promising elementary students. Gifted Child Quarterly, 53, 188–202.