Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Mary L. Morton


School personnel are concerned that reading gaps of grade 3 and grade 4 students have persisted in 4 rural elementary schools in the southern United States despite the use of ability grouping to improve student reading proficiency scores. Between the 2014-2016 school years, less than 50% of students in grades 3 and grade 4 scored at the proficient level in reading at the 4 target rural schools. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to examine the teachers' and administrators' perceptions regarding the influence of grouping on the reading performance of students in grades 3 and 4. Using Vygotsky's framework, the research investigated teachers' and administrators' perceptions of grouping and nongrouping in relation to students' reading progress, socioeconomic status, and achievement gaps between minority and non-minority students. Using purposeful sampling, interview data were collected from 4 administrators who met the criteria of working in a target site that used ability and nonability grouping. Teacher data came from focus groups, and surveys from 15 teacher participants who met the criteria of being certified in English Language Arts, and assigned to Grades 3 and/or 4 in ability or nonability grouping environments. Using emergent coding, themes supported the findings that assessment strategies are positively and negatively perceived, nonability grouping is preferred, reading achievement is perceived as higher in nonability grouping, and gaps in learning are influenced by socioeconomic status. Based on this research the use of nonability grouping may promote greater positive social change that will enhance student success in reading.