Ability Grouping Made Easy

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With conferences upon us and a new reporting period staring us down, it is the perfect time to evaluate where our students stand after their first reporting period, and to possibly re-adjust our grouping.

Using data you gathered during this first quarter (DRA, iReady, STAR testing, or another common assessment) we have come up with a system for you to get a clear picture about how to proceed with ability based grouping for the upcoming quarter. Remember, it is important to have your reading groups ability based so that you can differentiate appropriately through instructional strategies and resources.

Let me explain the method to the madness behind “the diamond.” It is designed to rank students by a common piece of data and allow you to get a snapshot of where each student falls in regard to proficiency. You will naturally see groups emerge once you have plotted each student onto the diamond.

While it seems a bit counter-intuitive, the students with the lowest scores go towards the top of the diamond. If you look closely, you will note that these top sections are labeled as Tier 2 and Tier 3 as well as IEP. On the flip-side of the coin, students who are achieving above grade level and have higher data points, will be placed towards the bottom of the diamond where it is labeled GT.

Students who are meeting grade level expectations, will fall into the middle area of the diamond either hovering closer to the top or the bottom depending on their scores.

Let’s look at the example. We will pretend that this is made for a 2nd grade class and I am using the DRA as the common data point. For this point in the year, we would expect students to be on a DRA level 18-20 to be considered proficient.

So let’s break it down…

Tiered Instruction

On our sample diamond, you can see that the students in the main area are all on levels 18 or 20. They are considered Tier 1 as it is labeled. They are on grade level and not considered at risk.

Moving up on the diamond, the next tier is labeled Tier 2 and you will note that the students in this group are below grade level. Beyond that is Tier 3 where students will require special education intervention. You can see how the scores are indicative of these different tiers.

At the bottom of the diamond, students are placed as they have scored above grade level expectations. Some are slightly beyond grade level, and the student at the very bottom is far beyond grade level expectations.

Along with the Tiers, each section of the diamond is labeled with either an A, B, or C. These letters correlate to our classroom adaptation chart that guides teachers in how to differentiate for their students.

Let’s start with Group A…

These students are below grade level and will need more differentiation in the areas of phonological awareness and word reading. You will need to spend extra time with these students in your small groups and these students would be the ones you would be considering referring for a special education evaluation if they’re not already tied into special education services.

At the very least, these are your RTI students.

Let’s move onto Group B….

These students are considered on grade level and you can teach them easily using your standard lessons. They still benefit from explicit instruction but you don’t have to work too far outside the box for them.

And finally, Group C…

These students are considered above grade level and also require differentiation to bring a layer of challenge to each of your lessons. When we think about reading and writing, they are the ones that would qualify for your challenge spelling lists and would be more focused on fluency and comprehension.


Using the diamond, you can easily begin to see patterns emerge as to how you can group students and differentiate accordingly. We hope you find this useful, we’d love to hear how this has helped you in your classroom! If you are looking for more support in this area, check out our training options here! We know that having three groups that all need different support can seem overwhelming, which is why we developed a curriculum and training program designed to make this setup easier for you!

And, extra credit will be given to anyone who recognized the theme in the “student names!” Comment your guesses below.