Does your school track classes based on ability level?

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by waterfall, Jul 17, 2011.

  1. waterfall

    waterfall Maven

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    Jul 17, 2011

    I'm really just curious. In college, I always thought it was interesting that people always talked about tracking based on ability in elementary school was practically child abuse (people were so vehemently against it) yet no one ever thought it was a big deal in high school.

    My district is HUGE and I really only know about the programs at the other elementary schools nearby. I don't know anyone who teaches HS or a lot about what goes on there. We had a PD at the end of the year about differentiation and they had showed a video from one of our high schools where they were talking about how they taught all levels in the same classroom. This was a SS teacher, and he had 3 different assignments/tests for everything they did to accommodate the different levels in his classroom. The students were responsible for choosing which assignment to do, which I thought was really interesting. I wondered how they got students that were more advanced to be willing to pick the harder assignment and be okay with one of their fellow students doing the easiest assignment/test and possibly getting a better grade than them.

    For things like math, I can't wrap my head around how they would work it. Do they really try to teach algebra 1 and calculus in the same room? What about AP courses? I basically did 2 majors and a minor in 4 years of college and would have never gotten all that done had it not been for my AP credits. I also think not having honors/AP or at the very least college prep classes on these students' transcripts would hurt their chances of getting into a good college or getting a scholarship. This is probably going to sound bad, but as a student I really liked being in my advanced classes with other people that were interested/put in a good effort, etc. I feel like I learned a lot more and the teachers could do a lot more with the class that way. My senior AP English class was 8 people and we had some fascinating book discussions in there- everything was seminar style.

    The middle school I went to tracked as well. We are combining with a middle school next year and I noticed they don't track at all either. Their classes just say "math", "literacy", etc and who is placed in them is totally random.

    Does your school do this? How do you make it work? Do you like it?
     
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  3. Ron6103

    Ron6103 Habitué

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    Jul 17, 2011

    Our school is tracked. We have "Skills" classes, which are generally for our special education students. These are basically lower-tier versions of the regular curriculum. We then have our regular education classes, for the average student. Finally, we have our Honors/AP courses, for the upper-tier students.

    I teach social studies, and the method you mentioned above simply wouldn't work at our school. Many of our students are "grade mongers", and if they saw an easier way to obtain an "A", they would take it. I've offered enrichment activities for the kids that clearly were higher level than my other students, and universally they've been rejected -- "why should I have to do extra work just because I'm done already" -- or similar comments, get made. Frankly, I agree with them. Thus, I support the tracking.

    Yes I know, without it... we're supposed to differentiate and everything will be just peachy. But sorry, reality doesn't always quite work out. Our PD sessions preach about "fair isn't always equal", and how we must make kids understand that everyone doing different levels of work is okay. That sounds great on paper, but kids pitch a MAJOR FIT about it in reality. Believe me, I've tried... and got a riot almost every time.

    Here's what I tried before we tracked our department. Let's use a vocabulary lesson as an example. One kid simply does a vocabulary crossword because he barely knows definitions. Another uses the terms in sentences because he already knows them, and yet another writes a few paragraphs using the terms because he's advanced beyond both of the other kids. This sounds wonderful... and was a wreck. "Why does Timmy only have a worksheet!" -- "I'm not writing a paragraph if Susy doesn't have to!" -- etc, etc. Sorry, the kids DO notice, and whine about it being unfair. And if you tell them "fair isn't always equal", the problem doesn't magically solve itself. The kids are upset, and frankly, from a student perspective, I understand it. I wouldn't want my grade to be based on an essay and another student's to be based on a worksheet, in the SAME class.

    I know my view is unpopular. But in my building, the system just didn't work. Our department generally agreed on the matter at the HS level, and starting two years ago, we tracked our courses.
     
  4. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Jul 17, 2011

    My school is all college prep. Every 6 or 7 years we have a kid who enlists in the military instead of attending college, but it's expected that everyone else will go to college.

    That said, we have 3 different tracks, though we don't call them that. We have an honors, a "regular" and a "slower" track.

    But all our kids take physics, 4 years of math, a foreign language,and so on.
     
  5. MissCeliaB

    MissCeliaB Aficionado

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    Jul 17, 2011

    We have different phases. We have inclusion classes (for special ed students,) general, enriched, honors, AP, and gifted.
     
  6. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    We offer Academic (university prep), Applied (college and/or workplace prep) and Locally Developed (usually Special Ed, workplace prep) tracks. The students have to decide going into grade 9 which track they'll be on; it's difficult to switch to a higher track after Grade 9.
     
  7. waterfall

    waterfall Maven

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    Ron, what you wrote about is EXACTLY how I pictured these ideas panning out. To be perfectly honest, as a student I would have been upset if I had to do 10x more work than somebody else sitting right next to me, and then we got the same (or maybe they even got a better) grade. I can totally imagine many "bright" kids catching on to the fact that they can simply choose the easiest assignment/test and get good grades easily. I also know at my HS we definitely had some crazy "grade mongers" who would do anything for the "A" or perfect GPA. In a perfect world, you could inspire the students to aim high and try the difficult assignments/tests just for the sake of learning more...but in reality very few students would do it. I could also see it causing a lot of social problems for either the really low or really high kids (everyone can see that Joey is "stupid" because he only has a worksheet, while Rachel is a "nerd" because she's writing paragraphs, etc.)

    I just couldn't fathom a scenario where that would really work out and be in the best interests of the students, so I was curious to see if anyone actually made it work and thought it was better than tracking. I'm not totally against tracking in elementary school (I know, I'm evil) and I always thought it was curious that everyone agreed with doing it in HS but thought it was so bad in elementary- until I saw that there actually were people that thought it was bad in HS too!

    Mrs. C- I think that's one of the main arguments against tracking. People say if a kid gets put on the "low" track they can never make it out even if they improve. I can see how that would be hard to do in HS (if a kid is on the low track and doesn't take algebra 1 until 9th grade, it's not like they can just skip those classes and move on to pre-calc all of the sudden), but in elementary when we do ability group we move the kids around all the time. I think it's easier to be more fluid about it in elementary, and doing some kind of tracking early on will make sure the kid is really on the right track. I have kids moving in and out of my "low" groups all the time. I had 3 4th graders that saw me for reading all last year, but are now ready to be moved back up to the "middle" group with their gen ed teacher.
     
  8. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    Jul 17, 2011

    We don't ability group in elementary school outside of guided reading, writing or math groups. Students don't move between classes based on ability and all work on grade level expectations unless they are identified with special needs.

    In high school, movement between tracks is possible, but difficult and would typically require taking an additional course. Teachers have no say is which level the students choose; we offer our input, but the decisions are ultimately up to parents and students. If we strongly disagree with a choice a student makes (a student with a 60% average who chooses Academic classes), we let the high school know, but can't over-rule.
     
  9. chebrutta

    chebrutta Enthusiast

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    Jul 17, 2011

    My school is also college prep. The MS has three levels - regular, honors, and gifted. Gifted is based on an IQ test; placement in regular and honors is based on scores on the FCAT. Each class is part of the MYP program.

    The HS has different levels - regular, honors, pre-IB, AP, IB, and dual enrollment. 9th & 10 are also considered MYP. I know you have to apply to be in pre-IB and IB classes; regular and honors are dictated by FCAT scores... I'm not sure about the AP classes. Dual enrollment is based strictly on GPA.
     
  10. mopar

    mopar Multitudinous

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    Jul 17, 2011

    We have a gifted program that begins at third grade, but besides qualifying for our gifted program, RtI, or special education, we don't track students. We differentiate in our elementary schools. When students get to fifth grade, we offer different math classes, but students are moved into and out of classes each year---so it's not really tracking.

    Our middle school has started offering different assignments and tests in both social studies and science because all students are mixed. It is not a choice which level assignment a student takes, but a student may be able to pick between assignments at their level.
     
  11. Soccer Dad

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    We're not "allowed" to track in NYS anymore because it's "detrimental" to student progress. What they basically did was take away 4 tracks (track 1 = brightest, track 4 = barely show up to school) and replaced them with jam-packed Regents classes (tracks 2-4) and the occasional honors/AP course (track 1).

    Students suffer. The whole idea that the brighter kids will teach the slower kids is nonsense. No, the brighter kids get bored and the slower kids get left behind.

    The whole differentiation thing is, in its own nature, unfair. Everyone in a particular class should have the same workload in high school. Courses have designated weights for a reason... GPA is way too serious of thing nowadays to start messing around with which kids get to do which assignments. In the end, everyone gets a lesser education.

    In short, I wish we had tracking again.
     
  12. KatherineParr

    KatherineParr Comrade

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    Jul 17, 2011

    We have regular and honors (or AP, where applicable) courses. But it's not exactly "tracking" as described by other posters. Students can be in honors math/science but regular humanities. They can be in all regular courses but be considered geniuses because they are the stars of the dance/jazz program.

    So there are multiple routes to success socially, and I like that. Our students understand that it's not an either/or (either you're smart or you're not) situation. People are good at some things but not as good at others. As a result, our students work hard for As but they accept Bs or even Cs for hard work in classes they consider outside of their natural talents.

    Oh, and although I entirely agree with you, SoccerDad, in my school the stronger students absolutely help the weaker ones. I had students running an informal chemistry study hall during my free period. The best student in chem came to help 4 or 5 students who wanted to succeed but couldn't quite do it. None of this had been arranged by the powers - he just showed up to help.
     
  13. dgpiaffeteach

    dgpiaffeteach Aficionado

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    The school that I student taught at did not track simply because it was an Early College program and the kids had to come to different periods depending on what day it was. For example, Johnny came to 1st period on Mondays and Wednesdays, 3rd period on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 8th period on Fridays because of his college course schedule. My teacher didn't really differentiate at all and basically taught the same. When I did a couple projects I put the more advanced students in smaller groups with a little bit harder content and told them it was because I knew they would do well with it. They seemed to love hearing that and tried really hard.

    The school I got hired at does honors and regular but same as KatherineParr, they can be in honors English and regular math. That's how my high school was as well.
     
  14. nstructor

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    Jul 17, 2011

    In 7th and 8th grade, we have our students tracked by ability. I think the lower ability classes suffer because none of the "higher" students are in there and I think working together helps all of the students, plus that's the real world!!
     
  15. waterfall

    waterfall Maven

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    Katherine Parr- my school (both middle and high) let you be on different tracks for different subjects too. I didn't mean to imply that if you were "AP" you had to take all AP classes. I would imagine most schools are the same, so I don't think that's really what they meant. In high school, I took AP English, Spanish, and History/Gov., honors Science, and college prep Math. You could mix and match however you wanted.

    When I say "no tracking" I mean having anyone and everyone in the same classroom at the same time. So for example, having a single social studies class with AP, college prep, general, and special needs students in it.
     
  16. KatherineParr

    KatherineParr Comrade

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    Waterfall, I think I was responding more to the Canadian example where students had a hard time switching into or out of a track. But maybe I misunderstood how that would work.

    I agree with you that I think most schools in the states, and especially AP programs, offer a buffet of courses and students select what works for them. In fact, there are something like 30 AP courses, and the AP says that almost no schools teach them all (if any do). So I guess you *could* fill your schedule with nothing but AP but...gah! I think in many places you'd only have some courses available as APs and many others you'd just take honors or whatever.

    But in our case, honors courses *are* a class where they enroll only students who select (or are selected) for honors. That tends to be more for 9th and 10th, because 11th and 12th offer students the AP/regular option.

    Is the honors system similar to tracking? I think my ignorance of educational terminology is showing.
     
  17. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    I think we're defining tracking as homgeneous grouping, where all kids cover the same material and function at pretty much the same academic level.

    That would be opposed to a heterogeneous grouping, where the class valedictorian might find him or herself in the same math or English class with the kid ranked lowest in the class.
     
  18. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    Jul 18, 2011

    One other point that I should clarify is that students can choose different 'levels' for different subjects. They could, for example, take Academic English, Science and Geography and Applied Math, French and History.
     
  19. KatherineParr

    KatherineParr Comrade

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    Thanks, Mrs. C. I definitely misunderstood the system in Ontario.

    So let me ask this: it sounds as though nearly everyone teaches in a school where students, even those designated as "gifted" or college prep, take *some* classes at an advanced level and others that are mixed. Is that right?

    So is there, really, tracking? What about charter/magnet schools. Is that just tracking on a whole-school scale?
     
  20. waterfall

    waterfall Maven

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    Tracking may be the wrong term- that's just what the district I attended called it. So we could call it "homogenous grouping" as Alice said, which is basically what I'm talking about. So yes, most schools do use homogenous grouping, where students are placed in classes based on ability level. So even if kids can take classes that are on different levels for different subjects, you're still going to have classes that are entirely comprised of the "high" kids, the "middle" kids, and the "low" kids. If the school groups according to ability, these kids will not be in the same class together. If the school does not group according to ability, the high/middle/low kids will all be thrown into all the same classes to be in the same classroom at the same time.
     
  21. dovian

    dovian Comrade

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    Jul 18, 2011

    IME, the word "tracking" has a connotation of a rigid system where you have to take all your classes on the same level regardless of subject ability. I have yet to find a school where that is currently the case. The high school I attended and the one I work at have different levels, and you can select according to your ability. At my school, if you want to move up from a regular level to an advanced level, you have to get your current teacher to sign off on it for the next school year; likewise if you want to go into AP or IB. I'd say probably 90% of the time it's not a problem for a teacher to sign that paperwork.

    I have absolutely had kids in my regular level English who could handle advanced or AP but chose not to because they wanted better grades. I also get kids who wind up in the advanced classes due to a scheduling fluke who shouldn't be there.

    And lastly, despite the levels that we offer, the admins still tell us we need to differentiate (!) because somebody down at SD headquarters decided differentiation was this year's buzzword. So even in the AP and IB classes we are supposed to offer different "levels" of work. Ridiculous. To get around it, most of us have redefined "differentiation" to mean "offer multiple learning styles instead of just essays all the time" and we make it work with projects and oral presentations and stuff. But it isn't really differentiating if the kids are all on the same level to begin with.
     

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