What are the implications of “tracking,” or grouping students into separate classes based on their achievement? Many schools have moved away from this practice and reduced the number of subject-area courses offered in a given grade. In this new Thomas B. Fordham Institute report, Brookings scholar Tom Loveless examines tracking and detracking in Massachusetts middle schools, with particular focus on changes that have occurred over time and their implications for high-achieving students. Among the report’s key findings: detracked schools have fewer advanced students in mathematics than tracked schools. The report also finds that detracking is more popular in schools serving disadvantaged populations.
A new report out today makes the case that students do better in school when they are separated into groups based on their achievement.
Loveless found that de-tracked schools have fewer advanced students in math than do tracked schools–and that de-tracking is more popular in schools that serve disadvantaged students.
Chester Finn, Jr. and Amber Winkler [1.3MB complete report pdf]:
By 2011, if the states stick to their policy guns, all eighth graders in California and Minnesota will be required to take algebra. Other states are all but certain to follow. Assuming these courses hold water, some youngsters will dive in majestically and then ascend gracefully to the surface, breathing easily. Others, however, will smack their bellies, sink to the bottom and/or come up gasping. Clearly, the architects of this policy have the best of intentions. In recent years, the conventional wisdom of American K-12 education has declared algebra to be a “gatekeeper” to future educational and career success. One can scarcely fault policy makers for insisting that every youngster pass through that gate, lest too many find their futures constrained. It’s also well known that placing students in remedial classes rarely ends up doing them a favor, especially in light of evi- dence that low-performing students may learn more in heterogeneous classrooms.
Yet common sense must ask whether all eighth graders are truly prepared to succeed in algebra class. That precise question was posed in a recent study by Brookings scholar Tom Loveless (The 2008 Brown Center Report on American Education), who is also the author of the present study. He found that over a quarter of low-performing math students–those scoring in the bottom 10 percent on NAEP–were enrolled in advanced math courses in 2005. Since these “misplaced” students are ill-pre- pared for the curricular challenges that lie ahead, Loveless warned, pushing an “algebra for all” policy on them could further endanger their already-precarious chances of success.
When American education produced this situation by abolishing low-level tracks and courses, did people really believe that such seemingly simple–and well-meanin –changes in policy and school organization would magically transform struggling learners into middling or high-achieving ones? And were they oblivious to the effects that such alterations might have on youngsters who were al- ready high-performing?
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