Tracking

Discussion in 'General Education' started by Ms.Holyoke, Sep 4, 2018.

  1. Ms.Holyoke

    Ms.Holyoke Devotee

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    What are your opinions on tracking students into different levels?

    I teach 6th grade and my school tracks kids into 3 levels based on their 5th grade standardized test scores. There is a huge difference between the kids in each of the levels, not just in terms of their academics, but in terms of their behavior. One of the tracks is called "Pre-AP" and it's confusing to me that kids can be tracked into AP classes at age 11! I'm honestly not fan of this but it is nice to be able to teach kids at their level.

    I know there is a ton of research about tracking being negative for kids. However, I have 34 kids in a class and it is really hard to differentiate with so many kids. I am probably not going to be able to differentiate much, if at all, my first year...unless our math coach comes to co-teach with me. So that might be one of the positives of tracking because there hopefully will not be kids that are too far apart in terms of their needs. I graded pre-tests and most of my kids struggle with a lot of the basics...except for about four kids. So I know that reviewing these skills will benefit the majority of my class, but this might not be the case if I had a hetorogenous group.
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2018
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  3. tchr4vr

    tchr4vr Companion

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    I think it is a good thing. However, I do not think that a child who has been placed in a certain track should be denied access to others, if they are willing to make the effort, with the understanding that if they can't do the work, they will be dropped back down. While this may not be a popular opinion, heterogenous grouping is a disservice to a large number of kids. I see it in my regular and honors courses--no matter how much I try to differentiate, I end up teaching to the bottom part of the class, because they are the ones that need the build up to get them to the standard for the class. The high kids are bored, make no effort, but still get an A. The middle kids stay middle kids-they never rise any higher than average. Only the very self-motivated can succeed, in my opinion, until they get into AP and DE classes, where they have access,but if they don't cut it,they are removed. It doesn't happen so much in AP, but in Dual Enrollment,if you don't have a C at the semester, you are removed from the course. It doesn't matter why you got the C, you just are removed and have to drop down to Honors.

    In an effort to make education equitable, we have lowered expectations and failed those who excel. I was tracked starting in 3rd grade--and I am glad of it. My son has not been, and until now (he is in 8th grade), he has been bored out of his mind in school and finds ways to keep himself busy, but usually ends up distracting others. His grades do not show his ability. I have pushed to get him in a higher math (we don't have access to anything else at this point) and it has been a 180. While he still isn't not absolutely where he should be--he tells me that he is always working in math and he doesn't have time to goof off, and his grades are so much better.
     
  4. mathmagic

    mathmagic Enthusiast

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    Here's the thing: similar to what the article I linked to in the long thread was saying, I think with an ideal world (plenty of resources, plenty of training, and a full-system shift in the view of mathematics education), tracking should not be used, but the problem is - as mentioned in the article - those overall shifts/trainings would most likely not happen, or teachers would not necessarily (not you, but in general) choose to prescribe to those changes.

    As tchr4vr posted as I was typing this, in places it is used, it definitely needs to be done so with the mindset that a students' "track" is always flexible. If they're rocking it, they should be able to access other classes, and if they're struggling, they should have access to classes that will help support them.

    The conversation of tracking and equity becomes rather tricky. Tracking can often unintentionally lead to students not having differing expectations beyond just that of the specific classes (clearly, the expectations differ, but the mindset around the kids can often change -- "remedial" vs "extension"). That's not equitable. But at the same time, not providing enough differentiation, as you said is incredibly difficult, is not equitable either.

    So what's the solution? I don't know. I'm not an expert on the subject and don't want to assume I have the best ideas at all. That said, I think it really becomes to individual districts/schools to determine what resources they have, what mindsets they have in place towards mathematics education, and choose based on that.

    At some point, it really just seems like there should be a point where students start to choose classes similarly to college -- no specific tracking, but they, along with their advisors/parents of course, determine what they think is most appropriate for them and what they want to aim for. *shrug* Or perhaps I'm just spouting off a lot of wind :p
     
  5. waterfall

    waterfall Maven

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    I know this is not popular, but I think we should do it more. It's never made sense to me that it's an automatic thing in HS, but it is somehow "horrific" in elementary school. No one would expect a HS teacher to teach from advanced calculus to basic algebra in one class period, but we expect elementary teachers to do the equivalent all of the time. Why is that?

    The argument I often hear is that the lower kids often get "stuck" in the low track. I'll be the person that's politically incorrect and say maybe that's because they belong there. The bell curve is real. Not every kid is meant to be academically advanced. We all have different skills and talents. I can improve my athletic skills, but I'll never be a "high achiever" in sports. I also notice no research on the lower kids suddenly not being "low" anymore after being in heterogeneous classes. If it were truly the case that being in a heterogeneous class "brought them up," then we wouldn't be having this discussion about wide ability gaps in classes.

    I do think if classes are tracked, they should be designed in such a way that the lower kids truly get more support, and not just stuck in a giant class with other low kids. The higher classes can be bigger while the lower ones should be significantly smaller and have more supports (i.e. interventionists running groups, aides providing in class support). And obviously, tracks should be based on a significant amount of data and if it turns out a kid is in the wrong track, he or she should have the ability to move up or down.
     
  6. Ms.Holyoke

    Ms.Holyoke Devotee

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    This is what I am wondering, I have 34 kids each in my two lowest classes -- and I just got a new student! I honestly cannot provide them with the attention and instruction that they each deserve with these class sizes and I don't think it's right to have these class sizes for lower kids. Because I don't have any kids on IEPs, there is no class size caps, but I am still working with kids who are not meeting expectations.
     
  7. otterpop

    otterpop Aficionado

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    I think that tracking works great for the high students and not at all for the low students.

    The high students get to move at a faster pace. The lower students have no higher role models, and miss out on hearing the thoughts of the higher students. The low classes often have the most behavior problems and motivational issues.
     
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  8. creativemonster

    creativemonster Comrade

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    I actually wish my district did this (tracking) more. My school used to be primarily credit recovery and this year our (new last year) principal is pushing us to become a much more advanced school overall so he wants us to teach to the higher end students so that our scores go up up up. I wish we had tracks as I feel that about half the class is being left in the dust. They belong in a different program/school says my principal. They would succeed if they were in a class being taught for them say I. I actually feel that I am a stronger teacher with these kids. I'm just learning how to work with higher ability kids. They are different in many many ways. And oh man - the anxiety levels in these hs kids who are advanced...I just feel bad for some of them. They seem to be under so much pressure and we just started 9th grade people - seriously, breathe, you will all be ok. so yeah, I'm pro tracking because I believe we need to meet them where they are - but not that they stay there - the idea is that everyone grows.
     
  9. Ms.Holyoke

    Ms.Holyoke Devotee

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    Right. When I student taught, we didn't have tracking, but I could see how the lower kids benefited from the higher kids sharing their ideas in discussions, etc. It also helps to "even out" behavior problems as well.
     
  10. dgpiaffeteach

    dgpiaffeteach Aficionado

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    We only have two tracks at my high school: regular and advanced. Both sections have students with a fairly wide range of abilities. I'm still able to use students as good models in both sections. In my regular section, I still have some students who can't write a quality sentence, let alone an essay, so there's still a lot of differentiation going on there too. We only went to having advanced classes in 9th and 10th a few years ago, but I've been really pleased by it. Both types of sections really improved when we did that, so I'm definitely a fan. We also don't hesitate to move kids as needed, even halfway through the year.
     
  11. Obadiah

    Obadiah Groupie

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    There are many good points to tracking and many bad points. I've mostly taught elementary in small classes, 16 students being the largest group, but small classes experience the same deficiencies as large classes. The greatest problem with 1 teacher differentiating 3 homogenous groups in a subject is time. It might pan out on paper, but in a real classroom with real kids and a real physical environment, the teacher ends up reducing the direct instruction (which can be a good thing, too), and moving the students quickly into independent work. To make up for the extra time in independent work, other work or learning centers are added. (Again, learning centers can be a good thing too--as I said, there are good and bad points to each argument). While I agree with Waterfall, there are students who are not ready for work beyond their level, I've noticed that time restricts the redirection these students need. Their class time is often a meeting with that entire group then sending them back to their seats for independent work. One possible intervention used by some teachers is to allow quick assistance by other students who are also working independently; I personally find that to be a hit and miss solution.

    A very real problem, as I recall this was covered in several Teaching Tolerence articles about hmm...9 or 10 years ago, is that the lower group is perceived by the entire class and by themselves as being a lower class of person. Research indicates that teachers sometimes perceive this group as being capable but not trying, or sometimes the teacher will perceive the student as having deficiencies that have not been evaluated. Our culture unfairly and unrealistically differentiates people into being smart or stupid. These students in the low group are not stupid; they are learning in their own way.

    The problem with an overtaxed classroom time wise is that the students are not receiving enough time to learn in their own way. Some might not excel beyond a point, (perhaps, although I question that for most students in a regular classroom), but given time and allowance to make mistakes, their neurons will reconstruct pathways to accomplish the tasks with more and more accuracy. Too rapid a flow of do-then-grade-get-a-C-and-move-on doesn't result in progress. Conquering an objective (well beyond the normal 80% prescribed level) and then using that previous learning to facilitate new learning will result in achievement.

    The question is, how? To be honest, I've struggled with that my entire career. Perhaps the biggest hindrance to differentiating in the classroom is the school wide restrictions on how to manage the classroom time. I've had limited success with flexible grouping amongst heterogeneous lessons. I've also had success, but still limited, by lengthening the time spent on each lesson with a lower group in homogenous grouping (but that can slow down their ultimate progress through a curriculum, too, and sometimes I found myself being too meticulous). But the bugaboo that always exists in an elementary classroom is time. Each lesson is relegated to its own time block. Ideally, I'd recommend when possible limiting homogenous groups to only 2 groups, low and middle-high. Additional advanced work can be given to the higher students; (especially useful would be choices among various assignments. One current possibility would be choices from a list of computerized assignments, perhaps Khan Academy or Duo-Lingo). This divides the blocked time in half allowing more time with the lower group. The ultimate ideal is for a teacher plus one or two para-professionals to be in the room.
     
  12. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Enthusiast

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    My school tracks students into different levels to great effect. I can’t speak for tracking programs elsewhere, but ours is really helpful to students because they get individualized instruction and it provides a platform for teachers to really differentiate instruction.

    I like the model utilized at my school: You take a diagnostic for all of the various subjects when you enroll, and then based on your results you get put into the class best suited for your ability level. However, once you demonstrate mastery, you have the option to move up. This is important because students will feel like they are put into the “stupid” classes otherwise, but it’s designed this way to make sure they achieve success and acquire the gaps in knowledge that they should acquired elsewhere.

    For example, say a student is put into Pre-Algebra, but really only needs to learn a few major concepts. If they can demonstrate mastery on said concepts, then they can take another diagnostic to be put into Algebra 1 in the same year and receive credit for Algebra 1 on their transcripts in place of Pre-Algebra. For Geometry, they can be inserted into the Geometry Honors class once they can prove that they can handle the added workload and increased rigor. We also have the option for the more driven students to take Geometry and Algebra 2 concurrently if they score a high pass (i.e. answer all problems with at least 90% accuracy) on the Algebra/Geometry diagnostic. For instance, we have a number of freshman students in Precalculus and they are flourishing. These are the students who want to take AP Statistics, AP Calculus AB, AP Calculus BC, and Calc 3 by their senior year. After all, who wouldn’t want to take all of that?!

    At my school, there is room for tremendous growth and mobility and students really get the help they need across all grade levels and various subjects.

    Another reason why I am such a strong proponent of tracking is because it doesn’t make sense to teach everyone with different ability levels in the same way. For the advanced students, they don’t need to stay on easier concepts very long, whereas the low to medium-low students will need more reinforcement and to be retaught as necessary until they achieve mastery.
     
  13. physteach

    physteach Companion

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    But why should higher achieving students have to serve the benefit of other students instead of being able to maximize their own learning?
     
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  14. ms.irene

    ms.irene Groupie

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    I actually teach at a non-tracked high school. I have 32 kids per class, and every period includes kids who have only taken Honors/AP before, sitting next to kids who have only ever taken sheltered ELD or SPED classes before and who have never been in a College Prep English class before. It's hard, but we make it work. I see huge gains in my ELD and SPED students, although I worry sometimes about providing enough challenge for the AP-level students.
     
  15. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Enthusiast

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    But do you see how unfair this is to the advanced students? It’s sort of how people (not you or other members on AtoZ) seem to overly fixated on disadvantaged or struggling students as if they’re the only students who matter. ALL students matter regardless of their socioeconomic status. The rights of those who struggle shouldn’t outweigh the rights of students who don’t and vice versa.

    That’s why I think students should be grouped by ability in *separate* classes. Therein they can get the individualized help they desperately need without making the kids who already “get it” sit there bored out of their wits when the advanced students just want to move on and get to the next topic. Also, it frustrates the struggling students when the advanced students get it and they don’t.
     
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2018
  16. ms.irene

    ms.irene Groupie

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    It's not unfair because they chose to be there -- they could have signed up for AP again but chose not to for whatever reason.
     
  17. MissCeliaB

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    I don't think it has to be all or nothing. I taught at an elementary school where, after a quick 10 minute announcements time, the next hour was spent in reading intervention groups based on specific reading level. The whole school changed classes to get reading instruction at their level. This was separate from their reading block later in the day, which was done in grade-level classes. I taught second grade. During the intervention block, I had students in groups as low as 1.1, and students in groups as high as 5.3. But then for reading class, they all were together with the 2nd grade curriculum and texts. It worked really well, and the year after I moved schools, they also implemented the same things for math.

    At the high school where I currently teach, some students are in one AP class, and the rest enriched. There's a mix. It works well for us.
     
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  18. mathmagic

    mathmagic Enthusiast

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    You mean there's a middle to the pendulum? ;) (that applies to all things, not just this conversation!)
     
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  19. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Enthusiast

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    Well, in this case I agree. They chose to be placed there. However, if they had no option of where they were placed in terms of the subject taught, then I think they should be situated in such a way that their placement maximizes THEIR own learning and not the learning of just the underperformers.
     
  20. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    I'm for avoiding tracking whenever possible. Being put into a low group can lower the social status of a student as well as the student's self-esteem. It's unnecessary to track elementary students. A model I like is to have a whole group literacy lesson, but differentiate the independent work. On occasion, I'll have my high flyers working on something else during the group lesson, but not often. This teaching model has produced powerful results in achievement and self-esteem for my students.

    I recognize that in in high school math, it would not work for a AP Calculus class to have unprepared students.
     
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  21. otterpop

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    I disagree with tracking in elementary because it's too early for students to be put into a box, in my opinion. If you separate students into on level and high level at a young age, it can be very difficult for those on level students catch up and make the transition into high level classes. It basically decides their high school fate at a very young age, unless the parent decides to get them tutoring outside of school so that the on level students can reach that high level of achievement of whatever test is used to place them for the following year.
     

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