OUTMODED IDEA • Schools should seek success for all students
January 17, 2010
Schools are supposed to challenge all students, not just high-performing youngsters. But that's what "tracking" — sorting students by academic ability into learning paths such as college preparatory or vocational — does.
The State Board of Education voted unanimously this month to oppose the practice of tracking. We agree.
Tracking has been around since at least the 1920s, when some high schools had as many as eight tracks, ranging from classical to "general secretarial."
Some educators have found benefits in ability grouping, especially where the groupings are fluid and temporary. For too many youngsters, though, a low track leads to a dead end.
State board members cited research showing that tracking funnels a disproportionate number of low-income and minority students to less challenging classes, making the achievement gap a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Also, the higher tracks have tended to get the best teachers and the most innovative curriculums. Tracking decisions are often made on subjective perceptions and narrow views of intelligence. These decisions can give kids labels — "slow" — that lower expectations and self-confidence.
"Untracking" should not result in high-performing students being held back or bored. Tools such as Advanced Placement classes and enrichment programs can build their strengths. Most students gain problem-solving skills and appreciation of others in a diverse classroom, and tend to remember what they learned when they have to explain answers to other students.
As the pitfalls of tracking have been revealed, schools have moved away from it. Schools in Stamford and Danbury are dismantling tracking systems. It's an idea whose time has gone
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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