Evidence against tracking grows

Data from the most comprehensive study of academic tracking unequivocally supports previous claims that grouping by ability is detrimental to low achievers. Robert Slavin, Center for Research on Effective Schooling for Disadvantaged Students at Johns Hopkins University, and Jomills Braddock, University of Miami, found further evidence of the harmful effects of tracking and no evidence of any benefits. Complete results of their study will be published this winter.

Slavin and Braddock’s study of thousands of eighth graders in the highest, middle, and lowest thirds of their classes took place over three years. Controlling for factors such as prior grades and test scores, gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic levels, the study essentially compared achievement levels in tracked and untracked classes.

Significant difference for low-achieving students

Results were striking. Low-achieving students placed in the low track performed far worse than low-achieving but untracked students on both composite and core achievement tests in reading, mathematics, science, and social studies. In addition, by 10th grade, these low-achieving, tracked students were far more likely than their low-achieving non-tracked counterparts to end up in non-college-preparatory programs. Students in the low-ability track are effectively prevented from taking courses necessary to attend college.

Nor was tracking found to benefit high and average achievers. Although advocates of tracking claim that teachers are more effective when teaching homogeneous groups of students, high achievers who were tracked performed no better than high achievers in heterogenous classes.

In addition to the negative academic consequences of tracking, these researchers also found evidence of negative social consequences. Tracking, this study confirmed, tends to segregate students along ethnic and socioeconomic lines, thus limiting the possibilities for them to develop relationships beyond their own racial or ethnic group. Students who were tracked more often reported poor race relations in their schools. Slavin and Braddock also found evidence of low self-esteem, delinquency, and high dropout rates among students in low tracks. These researchers conclude that ability grouping is a dysfunctional practice that should be discontinued.

“Tracking Found to Hurt Prospects of Low Achievers” Education Week Volume 12, Number 2, p. 9.

Published in ERN November/December 1992 Volume 5 Number 5

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