Peer Effects: Is mixing of abilities the optimal policy?

To track, or not to track students? To mix, or not to mix? Mixed ability classes or grouping of students according to performance levels?

Educators have struggled with these questions often, making agonizing decisions about what classroom or what class in particular would best benefit a given student.

Recently, the International Baccalaureate (Middle Years Program) decided to replace its 3-level language program with a six-phase program. Students are to be assigned to one of the six phases according to their ability.

As a result, more homogenous classes can be formed, with students having similar abilitiy levels. Further, the teacher is not to have more than two consecutive levels in any one class, making differentiation much more effective due to the small variation in the class.

More importantly, age and or course/class were not to be the determining factor in assigning students. Nonetheless, the final assignment was left to the discretion of the school.

Obviously, this was a wise decision.

In addition to test scores on standardized tests, there are other factors to be considered. Motivation, effort, attitude, determination, study habits, recent performance, tendencies, and behaviour – both in class and out of class – need to be taken into account. Leaving this to the ultimate discretion of the school ensures the best chance of making the most appropriate assignment for the individual student.

Another factor that is worthy of taking a look at in the assignment process is what is known as the “peer effect”. In short, what do we know about how one’s peers affect a student’s performance?

Is it better to have all students at the same level or does a mixed ability class present some additional benefits, or disadvantages, that need to be considered?

Here we must keep in mind that only two “phases”, consecutive ones, are able to be attended in any one class. The “One-Room Schoolhouse” is not the objective of the new 6-phase model.

Let’s look at some studies. My goal is for you, the reader, to reach your own conclusions on this issue…


At most universities world-wide, future EFL teachers are required to write in an academic style. Essays, research papers, and theses are examples of the most important academic writing that the student-teacher (hereafter ST) does. Furthermore, when they become EFL teachers, it is quite possible that they will teach students wishing to study at undergraduate or postgraduate levels. However, there are few published, experiential accounts of how future EFL teachers are taught to do academic writing. In this article, I will attempt to fill that gap by sharing an account of an integrated, genre-based/process-writing experience in the Chilean context.

Click on the link below to get Teaching Academic Writing:


The International Baccalaureate [Kindle Edition]

The International Baccalaureate [Paperback]

The global search for high-quality education, embedded in high-performing education systems, has taken on mythical proportions, almost resembling the alchemists’ quest to turn common metals into gold.

It is my hope that the present day search for global education, equitable and providing equality of opportunity for all, shall not cease until the “gold” we seek, has been found.

I therefore dedicate this book to all the educators, researchers, parents and students the world over, who strive to achieve this elusive goal,high-quality education for all the citizens of the world.

In this endeavour, it is my belief that the International Baccalaureate merits a closer look, based on their more than 40 year history of delivering consistently excellent results.

I add that all of the reflections and views in this book are mine alone, unless otherwise noted, and can not be attributed to my employer or any other organization I am affiliated with, past or present. For any errors or oversights, I bear the complete responsibility.

Connectivism For EFL Teachers

Connectivism has been called, “A Learning Theory for the Digital Age” (Siemens, 2005). I aim to share what I have learned about connectivism, and what it means for English Language Teaching.

What I share comes from a Massive Open On-line Course (MOOC) called, Connectivism and Connected Knowledge 2011 (CCK11). The course facilitators are George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Siemens first wrote about connectivism in 2005. Since then, he and Downes have worked together to develop the theory and practice of connectivism. The CCK11 course is where I enter the picture, as a learner and EFL teacher.


Amazon Author Page: Thomas Jerome Baker

Peer effects in private and public schools across countries

Many argue that the composition of a school or classroom – that is, the characteristics of the students themselves-affect the educational attainment of an individual student.

This influence of the students in a classroom is often referred to as a peer effect.

There have been few systematic studies that empirically examine the peer effect in the educational process.

In this research, we examine the peer effect with a unique data set that includes individual student achievement scores and comprehensive characteristics of the students’ families, teachers, other school characteristics, and peers for five countries.

The data allow an examination of peer effects in both private and public schools in all countries.

Our analysis indicates that peer effects are a significant determinant of educational achievement; the effects of peers appear to be greater for low-ability students than for high-ability students.

The finding is robust across countries but not robust across school type. © 2000 by the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.

Zimmer, R. W. and Toma, E. F. (2000), Peer effects in private and public schools across countries. J. Pol. Anal. Manage., 19: 75–92. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1520-6688(200024)19:13.0.CO;2-W



Caroline M. Hoxby

Are students affected by the achievement of their schoolmates?

Should schools eliminate tracking, under which students are exposed only to peers with similar achievement?

I find that students are affected by the achievement level of their peers: a credibly exogenous change of 1 point in peers’ reading scores raises a student’s own score between 0.15 and 0.4 points, depending on the specification.

Although I find little evidence that peer effects are generally non-linear, I do find that peer effects are stronger intra-race and that some effects do not operate through peers’ achievement.

For instance, both males and females perform better
in math in classrooms that are more female
despite the fact that females’ math performance is about the same as that of males.

Tracking students by prior achievement is controversial among academics and policymakers.

On one hand, if teachers find it easier to teach a homogeneous group of students, tracking could improve school effectiveness and test scores.

Many argue, on the other hand, that if students learn in part from their peers and so benefit from having higher achieving peers, tracking could disadvantage low achieving students while benefiting high achieving students, thereby exacerbating inequality.

A central challenge of educational systems in developing countries is that students are extremely diverse, and the curriculum is largely not adapted to new learners. These results show that grouping students by preparedness or prior achievement and focusing the teaching material at a level pertinent for them could potentially have large positive effects.

To the extent that students benefit from high-achieving peers, tracking will help strong students and hurt weak ones.

However, all students may benefit if tracking allows teachers to better tailor their instruction level. Lower-achieving pupils are particularly likely to benefit from tracking when teachers have incentives to teach to the top of the distribution.

Esther Duflo, Pascaline Dupas, and Michael Kremer

The good, the bad, and the average: Evidence of ability peer effects in schools

Victor Lavy, Olmo Silva , Felix Weinhardt, 10 February 2010

Does it matter who you went to school with?

This column presents evidence from England suggesting strong peer influence among secondary school classmates. But the effects vary with gender and ability.

Girls significantly benefit from more interactions with very bright peers, whereas it can impair boys – especially those with higher ability.

By separating our sample into boys and girls, our results also show that girls significantly benefit from interactions with very bright peers, whereas boys are negatively affected by a larger proportion of academically outstanding peers at school.

We also find that the positive effect stemming from interactions with ”good” peers is more pronounced for female in the bottom part of the ability distribution.

On the other hand, while not strongly significant, our results suggest that more able boys suffer from interacting with a larger fraction of outstanding schoolmates.”

The Economist


Classroom Peer E®ects and Academic Achievement:
Quasi-Randomization Evidence from South Korea

Changhui Kang¤
Department of Economics
National University of Singapore
August 2006
Journal of Urban Economics

Exploiting quasi-random assignment of peers to individual students that takes place in middle schools of South Korea, we examine the existence and detailed structure of academic interactions
among classroom peers.

We find that mean achievement of one’s peers is positively cor-
related with a student’s performance
(standardized mathematics test score).

Employing IV methods, we show that such a relationship is causal: the improvement in peer quality enhances a student’s performance.

Quantile regressions reveal that weak students interact more closely with other weak students than with strong students; hence their learning can be delayed by the presence of worst-performing peers.

In contrast, strong students are found to interact more closely with other strong students; hence their learning can be improved by
the presence of best-performing peers.

Conclusion: “…weak students are likely to benefit from ability mixing, while strong students from grouping…”

“…a higher achieving peer is better for a student’s own achievement…” Caroline Hoxby, Department
of Economics, Harvard University
, Cambridge, Massachusetts 0213

Educational peer effects and the Chicago public schools

Using data on third and sixth grade students in the Chicago public schools, I examine peer effects using variation in school tracking policies.

In tracked schools, high ability students receive the benefit of being placed in classes with high ability peers.

The opposite is the case for low ability students.

If peer effects were important, one would expect students with high initial ability in tracked schools to outperform similar students in untracked schools.

Similarly, students with low initial ability in tracked schools should lag behind their counterparts in untracked schools.

Using an identification strategy that takes advantage of this intuition, I find peer effects to be quite small, though generally positive and statistically significant.

Peer effects in Austrian schools

Nicole Schneeweis and Rudolf Winter-Ebmer

This study deals with educational production in Austria and is focused on the impact of schoolmates on students’ academic outcomes. We use PISA 2000 and 2003 data to estimate peer effects for 15 and 16 year old students.

School fixed effects are employed to address the potential self-selection of students into schools and peer groups.

The estimations show significant positive effects of the peer group on students’ reading achievement, and less so for mathematics.

The peer effect in reading is larger for students from less favorable social backgrounds.

Furthermore, quantile regressions suggest peer effects in reading to be asymmetric in favor of low-ability students, meaning that students with lower skills benefit more from being exposed to clever peers, whereas those with higher skills do not seem to be affected much.
Educational Peer Effects: Quantile Regression Evidence from Denmark with PISA2000 data
by Beatrice Schindler Rangvid∗

Do peers have a (measurable) impact on student performance? The findings in the existing literature on peer effects are ambiguous

“…the performance of students from more educationally impoverished backgrounds may depend more heavily on school factors as e.g. teacher quality, school resources, and their classmates…”

“The positive and significant peer level effect is strongest for weak students…”

“The effect from a heterogenous peer composition on test scores does affect weak learners positively…”

“These results combined suggest that mixing of abilities is the optimal policy…”



Esther Duflo, Pascaline Dupas, and Michael Kremer


The Chilean National English Test [Kindle Edition]

SIMCE Ingles 2010: The development of the national English test in Chile coincides with my story, which is woven autobiographically into the larger story, a test which apparently resulted in only 11% of students able to achieve a passing score. This book will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will reveal secrets to you that you thought you already knew about tests, test-making, and test-reporting. More importantly, you leave the reading of this book with a renewed sense of confidence in who you are, and what you do…

The Chilean National English Test [Kindle Edition]

The Chilean National English Test: A Personal Journey [Paperback]

Book Details
Paperback: 82 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace (March 26, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 147509809X
ISBN-13: 978-1475098099


Soy Un Maestro: I Am A Teacher [Paperback]

I am a teacher, and I teach in Chile. This year a new Teacher Career Law, defining the teaching profession in terms of increased prestige, attracting more applicants from higher performing students, an obligatory enabling exam, higher salaries, fewer hours teaching in the classroom, and higher responsibilities wil be passed, hopefully. This book totally supports the idea that a good law is needed, and now is the time to pass one, even if that law is not yet perfect. We Teachers have such a long way to go, and this is clearly a tremendous step in the right direction. To celebrate, all of the funds received for the sale of this book will go to support the EdCamp Santiago free conference for teachers in Chile. Thank you, in advance, for buying this book. May God Bless You…

Soy el más afortunado de todos quienes trabajan. A un médico se le permite traer una vida en un momento mágico. A mí se me permite que esa vida renazca día a a día con nuevas preguntas, ideas y amistades. Un arquitecto sabe que si construye con cuidado, su estructura puede permanecer por siglos. Un maestro sabe que si construye con amor y verdad, lo que construya durará para siempre.

Book Details
Paperback: 170 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace (July 3, 2012)
Language: English/Spanish
ISBN-10: 1478176520
ISBN-13: 978-1478176527

Soy Un Maestro: I Am A Teacher [Kindle Edition]

Soy Un Maestro: I Am A Teacher [Kindle Edition]

Amazon Author Page: Thomas Jerome Baker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He is the Coordinator of the English Department at Colegio Internacional SEK in Santiago, Chile.

Es una red que reúne a Profesionales de la Educación preocupados por desarrollar y fortalecer las capacidades de sus comunidades educativas, a través de la creatividad, la innovación y el emprendimiento.

Thomas was recently selected for membership in the Comunidad de Innovación Escolar of the Foundation Telefónica and Foundation Educación 2020.

He is the Co-Founder and Co-Organiser of EdCamp Santiago, free, participant-driven, democratic, conversation based professional development for teachers, by teachers.

Thomas is also an ex member (2010-2011) of the Advisory Board for the International Higher Education Teaching and Learning Association (HETL), where he currently serves as a reviewer and as the HETL Ambassador for Chile.

Thomas enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. Thus far, he has written the following genres: romance, historical fiction, autobiographical, sports history/biography, and English Language Teaching. He has published a total of forty four (44) books overall.

The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family, his wife Gabriela, and his son, Thomas Jerome Baker, Jr.

About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
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