Research about tracking

Classroom desk and drawn blackboard of chemistry teaching with books and instruments. Chemical sciences education concept. Horizontal composition. Top view

Over the years, many researchers have studied how tracking works, how it intersects with race and class, and the long term effects of tracking. Our goal is to give practitioners, those of you in the classroom and working with students, access to findings from a wide selection of studies on tracking.

Prevalence of tracking

While proponents of tracking have argued that schools are becoming less tracked, researchers have found that, in fact, schools remain highly tracked.

Kelly (2007) studied the school tracking policies in North Carolina.    Read more

    Citation: Kelly S. (2007).  The contours of tracking in North Carolina. The High School Journal, 90, 15-31.

    Abstract: In this analysis of North Carolina high schools the author examines school tracking policies using an amended version of Sorensen’s (1970) conceptualization of the organizational dimensions of tracking. Data from curriculum guides in a stratified sample of 92 high schools reveal both consistency and variation in how tracking is implemented at the school level. Understanding the policies that promote inclusive course taking, or that affect other dimensions of tracking, such electivity and scope, is the first step to improving the implementation of tracking. Research on tracking will continue to be disconnected from school improvement efforts until the relationships between school policies, the organizational dimensions of tracking, and outcomes for students are understood.

    Methods: Examined curriculum guides for 92 high schools in the state for the 1997 to 1998 school year.

    Key findings: English departments were highly stratified with no schools offering only one English course and 20 schools offering four or more English levels at each grade. Math was also highly tracked but social studies and science departments varied in their tracking across schools. Many schools also had policies in place that would make it challenging to switch to a higher level of course.

    Kelly and Price (2011) looked at changes in North Carolina’s tracking policies in the previous ten years and what lead to more elaborated tracking policies.   Read more

    Citation:    Kelly, S. & Price, H. (2011).  The correlates of tracking policy: Opportunity hoarding, status competition, or a technical-functional explanation? American Educational Research Journal, 48(3), 560-585.

    Abstract:   In this analysis, the authors explore the relationship between the social context of high schools and school-to-school variation in tracking policies. The authors consider three explanations for the implementation of highly elaborated tracking systems: opportunity hoarding, status competition, and a technical-functional explanation. Building on the research methodology developed by Kelly, they conducted a content analysis of curriculum guides in a sample of 128 high schools to identify school tracking policies. They find that compositional variables related to technical-functional concerns, and to a lesser extent, status competition, are associated with highly elaborated school tracking policies.

    Methods:  Looked at curriculum guides for 2007 to 2008 from 128 schools, including 91 of the original 92 schools.

    Key findings:  All of the schools engaged in some form of tracking, with complex policies that limit course-taking opportunities for students. Schools increasingly used test scores and GPA for admittance to higher track classes. English became less tracked and social studies became more tracked on average.

    How tracking decisions are made

    Tracking policies at many middle and high schools are often unclear. Parents and teachers alike are often confused about how decisions are made and track placements can be both arbitrary and easily influenced by outside forces. Often teacher, counselor, and parent recommendations are important in deciding future track placement, a process that is subjective and can be open to bias.

    Bernhardt (2014) investigated how three social studies teachers at one school determined future social studies track placement for their students.     Read more

    Citation: Bernhardt, P. (2014). Making decisions about academic trajectories: A qualitative study of teachers’ course recommendation practices. American Secondary Education, 42(2), 33-50

    Abstract: Tracking students into classes according to academic capability is a common practice in American high schools. Although the impact of ability grouping on the lives of teachers and students is well documented, few studies pay specific attention to the influence that teachers have on students’ academic trajectories. Through a case study of three social studies teachers working in one public high school, this research examines the dynamics that are central to the course recommendation process. The study draws attention to the technical, political, and normative dynamics shaping how teachers recommend academic placement.

    Methods: Qualitative multiple case study of three teachers at one high school near DC.

    Key findings: The three teachers had large amounts of autonomy in making track decisions and little guidance from administration in how to make those decisions. The three teachers generally said they used the same criteria, but they operationalized that criteria very differently so that there was little consistency in how they made track placement decisions.

    LeTendre, Hofer, and Shimizu (2003) used case study data from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) study to investigate how tracking is thought about and carried out in Germany, Japan, and the United States.     Read more

    Citation: LeTendre, G. K., Hofer, B. K., & Shimizu, H. (2003). What is tracking? Cultural expectations in the United States, Germany, and Japan. American Educational Research Journal, 40, 43–89.

    Abstract: On the basis of the TIMSS Case Study Project data collected in the United States, Japan, and Germany in 1994-1995, this article examines the phenomenon of tracking as part of curricular differentiation and student placement practices in public K-12 school systems. The authors document clear national differences in differentiation and placement measures and summarize the history of conflict over those measures. Analysis of respondent perceptions and beliefs about differentiation and placement (what people think “tracking” is) shows that nation-specific values and attitudes (i.e., cultures) determine which forms of curricular differentiation are legitimated and which con tested. Dominant cultural beliefs about what students are capable of and the role that schools should play in educating them create different points of conflict over tracking.

    Methods: Case study looking through materials gathered as part of the  TIMSS case study project.

    Key findings: The process of how students are assigned to tracks in the United States is very unclear, especially to many parents. Student sorting often begin in early elementary grades without parents being informed. Formal tracking often begins in middle school, at which point parents are not informed about how their child’s course placement could affect high school graduation and college attendance. Wealthier parents, who better understand the long term impact of course placement, are able to influence the tracking placement of their children at many points in the process. In general, parents are very confused by the process of tracking and aren’t sure how or why their children are placed into different courses.

    Tracking and school composition

    This set of studies focused on how school demographics influenced tracking. These researchers found that tracking increased at more diverse schools, with several researchers theorizing that this was a way for wealthier and Whiter families to maintain privilege in diverse contexts.

    Lucas and Berends (2007) looked at the relationship between school diversity and de facto tracking using nationally representative data.    Read more

    Citation: Lucas, S., & Berends, M. (2007). Race and track location in U.S. public schools. Research in Stratification and Mobility, 25, 169-187.

    Abstract: De facto tracking-the association between students’ courses in disparate sub jects, regardless of the decline of institutional mechanisms that organized de jure tracking-is a contested feature of secondary schools. Some analysts imply that de facto tracking arises simply because students who do well in one area often do well in other areas. Other analysts contend that pronounced tracking systems maintain racial, ethnic, and social-class segregation and thus that de facto track ing is driven, in part, by the sociodemographic composition of schools. This arti cle investigates the school-level correlates of de facto tracking. An analysis of data from High School and Beyond suggests that the higher the correlation between students’ achievements in different domains, the more pronounced the de facto tracking. However, racial-ethnic and socioeconomic diversity are also positively associated with de facto tracking, even though the achievement correlation is controlled. These findings suggest that de facto tracking may be maintained by both technical and demographic aspects of schools, both of which must be considered in any evaluation of tracking.

    Methods: The researchers used data from the 1980 to 1982 High School and Beyond survey of over 900 high schools to analyze the relationship between school characteristics and student tracking.

    Key findings: The researchers found that more racially and economically diverse schools had more tracking, even once they controlled for academic achievement. They found that at diverse schools, students were likely to be at the same level of courses across subjects while at less diverse schools students would be in different levels of courses in different subjects.

    Buttaro, Catsambis, Mulkey, and Steelman (2010) looked at results from a nationally representative survey to examine ability grouping in kindergarten.     Read more

    Citation: Buttaro, A., Catsambis, S., Mulkey, L., & Steelman, C. (2010). An organizational perspective on the origins of instructional segregation: School composition and use of within class ability grouping in American kindergartens. Teachers College Record, 112(5), 1300-1337.

    Abstract:  

    Background: This investigation was sparked by research findings on secondary education showing school segregation to be closely associated with homogeneous grouping practices, such as tracking and between-class ability grouping.
    Research Design: We conduct secondary analyses of national data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K).
    Objectives: Using these data, we investigate the degree to which the racial and ethnic composition of schools is associated with use of ability grouping practices as early as kindergarten. We focus on withinclass ability grouping for reading instruction because it is the most common form of homogeneous grouping for the early grades.
    Results and Conclusions: We find that this form of grouping is practiced by a majority of kindergarten teachers and schools, although frequency of use is quite varied, and some teachers and schools use it only sporadically. The most intensive use of within-class ability grouping exists in schools that serve high proportions of minority students and in schools with high variability in students’ reading readiness. The association between student body composition and use of this instructional practice remains even after variability in student academic skills and other structural characteristics of schools are accounted for. Schools serving primarily minority students that use within-class ability grouping have higher average gains in reading achievement by the end of the school year than comparable schools that do not use this form of grouping. Use of this instructional practice is not associated with increases in average achievement gain scores for schools serving students of diverse or primarily White backgrounds. Our findings provide the foundation for further studies of the structural, cultural, and political features of schools associated with the use of ability grouping at the onset of schooling.

    Methods: The researchers analyzed data from over 12,000 students in the 1998 Early Childhood Longitudinal Study kindergarten cohort..

    Key findings: The majority of kindergarten teachers reported using ability grouping at least sometimes in their classroom. Ability grouping occurred much more often at diverse and high minority enrollment schools than at primarily White schools, a relationship that holds true even when the researchers control for socio-economic status and other factors.

    Race, class, and access to higher level courses

    Academic track placement has historically been explicitly linked to race and class. Researchers have investigated whether access to higher level courses is still linked to skin color and income. Their conclusions are that race and income still impact course access.

    Corra, Scott, and Carter (2011) compared expected advanced course enrollment based on SAT scores with actual enrollment in advanced classes to determine which groups were over or under represented in those courses.     Read more

    Citation: Corra, M., Scott C., & Carter, S. (2011). The interactive impact of race and gender on high school advanced course enrollment. Journal of Negro Education, 80(1), 33-46

    Abstract: Data from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction archive are used to assess the joint effect of race and gender on advanced academic (advanced placement and honors) course enrollment within a school district with an open enrollment policy. Using student SAT scores; the authors compare expected levels of advanced course enrollment for White and Black males and females to actual advanced course enrollment. The results generally reveal race to be a stronger predictor of class enrollment than gender. White students, regardless of gender, tend to enroll in advanced academic courses at a higher rate than do Black students. However, when comparing actual to expected enrollment based on average SAT scores, there does appear to be a gendered difference within each racial category. Theoretical and practical implications of these findings framed by an open enrollment policy are discussed.

    Methods: The researchers analyzed 2002-2003 state data on one school district in North Carolina with 5470 high school students.

    Key findings: The researchers calculated what percentages of different subgroups should be in advanced classes based on their SAT scores and then compared that expected percentage against the actual demographics of advanced classes. They found that, based on SAT scores, White students were consistently over represented in advanced classes and Black students were consistently under represented.

    Kurlender and Yun (2005) investigated the impact of school diversity on high school students attitudes about diversity and student outcomes.     Read more

    Citation: Kuralender, M. & Yun, J. (2005). Fifty years after Brown: New evidence of the impact of school racial composition on student outcomes. International Journal of Educational Policy, 6(1), 51-78.

    Abstract: No abstract

    Methods: The researchers administered the Diversity Assessment Questionnaire to over 10,000 high school students in Miami-Data County Public Schools and compared that against school level data.

    Key findings: Students attending more racially diverse schools responded more positively to the attitude questions on the questionnaire than students at less diverse schools. Most students also reported feeling encouraged to attend college. However, 54% of White students and only 45% of Black students and 43% of Latinx students reported being encouraged to take more rigorous classes. The discrepancy was largest at diverse high schools where 20% more White students than Black students reported being encouraged to take more rigorous courses.

    Muller et al., (2010) examined longitudinal data for high school students at diverse school to learn about representation of diverse groups in challenging sophomore year math classes and the long term correlates of that track placement.     Read more

    Citation: Muller, C., Riegle-Crumb, C., Schiller, K., Wilkinson, L., & Frank, K. (2010). Race and academic achievement in racially diverse high schools: Opportunity and stratification. Teachers College Record, 112(4), 1038-1063.

    Abstract: 

    Background/Context: Brown v Board of Education fundamentally changed our nation’s schools, yet we know surprisingly little about how and whether they provide equality of educational opportunity. Although substantial evidence suggests that African American and Latino students who attend these schools face fewer learning opportunities than their White counterparts, until now, it has been impossible to examine this using a representative sample because of lack of data.
    Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study uses newly available data to investigate whether racially diverse high schools offer equality of educational opportunity to students from different racial and ethnic groups. This is examined by measuring the relative representation of minority students in advanced math classes at the beginning of high school and estimating whether and how this opportunity structure limits the level of achievement attained by African American and Latino students by the end of high school.
    Setting: This study uses data from the Adolescent Health and Academic Achievement Study (AHAA) and its partner study, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), a stratified, nationally representative study of students in U.S. high schools first surveyed in 1994–1995.
    Population/Participants/Subjects: Two samples of racially diverse high schools were used in the analysis: one with African Americans, Whites, and Asians (26 schools with 3,149 students), and the other with Latinos, Whites, and Asians (22 schools with 2,775 students).
    Research Design: Quantitative analyses first assess how high schools vary in the extent to which minority students are underrepresented in advanced sophomore math classes. Hierarchical multilevel modeling is then used to estimate whether racial-ethnic differences in representation in advanced math have an impact on African American and Latino students’ achievement by the end of high school, relative to the Whites and Asians in the school. Specifically, we estimate the effects of Whites’ and Asians’ overrepresentation in sophomore year math (or Latino or African American underrepresentation) within the school on students’ senior-year grades and their postsecondary enrollment.
    Findings/Results: Findings show that schools vary in the extent to which African American and Latino students are underrepresented in advanced sophomore math classes. This pattern of racial inequality in schools is associated with lower minority senior-year grades and enrollment in 4-year postsecondary institutions, net of students’ own background. Conclusions/Recommendations. Evidence consistently suggests that schools can play an active role in the provision of opportunities for social mobility or in the exacerbation of social inequality, depending on how they are structured. It is important to consider racial stratification within schools as a mechanism of inequality of educational opportunity


    Methods: The researchers looked at longitudinal and school level data for over 5,000 high school students at 80 racially diverse high schools.

    Key findings: The researchers found that Black and Latinx students were under represented in advanced sophomore year math classes, although the amount they were under represented varied from school to school. This under representation was associated with lower high school graduation and college enrollment rates.

    Mickelson and Heath (1999) investigated the track placements of students in North Carolina.   Read more

    Citation: Mickelson, R. & Heath, D. (1999). The effects of segregation on African American high school seniors’ academic achievement. The Journal of Negro Education, 68(4), 566-586.

    Abstract: This study examines the relationship between segregated education and school outcomes for African American adolescents in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, school district (CMS), regarded as a model of successful desegregated public schooling. Using 1997 survey data, it investigates the effects of segregated elementary education and racially identifiable tracked secondary courses on the academic achievement of 640 African American high school seniors. Findings indicate that many CMS schools remain segregated at the building level; at the secondary level, all core academic classes were tracked and racially identifiable, with Black students disproportionately found in lower tracks. Both forms of segregated schooling had negative effects on academic outcomes. Importantly, desegregated learning environments benefited the academic performance of Black students who experienced them.

    Methods: The researchers surveyed 50% of 12th grade English class students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district and compared the surveys with other school and district level data.

    Key findings: They found evidence of ability grouping at elementary schools, with a disproportionate percent  of White students being labelled as gifted and of Black students being labelled as special needs. They found that students in the highest tracks were overwhelmingly White and the students in the lowest tracks were overwhelmingly Black.

    Irizarry (2015) interviewed Latinx students in his participatory action research about, among other things, their experiences of tracking.     Read more

    Citation: Irizarry, J. (2015). What Latino students want from school. Educational Leadership, 72(6), 66-71.

    Abstract: No abstract

    Methods: Ethnographic study of the experiences of seven Latinx students in a participatory action research project.

    Key findings: “Ramón offered the following insightful analysis of tracking and its impact on Latino and other students of color: Latinos are in the lowest [level] classes. That’s just the way it is, how it’s been. That’s what our research shows. At first I was like, we must be dumb, we are not smart like the other kids. Latinos are different. So I started to act dumb and not do my work and stuff like that. What does it matter, right? Like, if you are not smart, [you are] not going nowhere. Then I start this research and start to think about it. Many Latinos are smart but still in the low classes. And are you saying that white [students] are smart because they are in the high classes, not fundamentals? It hurt me real bad at first. . . . thinking that Latinos and myself are dumb or less than them. It still kind of hurts. But I see that is the way school is set up. That needs to change. We are smart. We want better” (Irizarry, 2015, p.69).

    Modica (2015) interviewed and observed high school students of color at one charter school to learn tracking impacted their racial identity and academic opportunities.   Read more

    Citation: Modica, M. (2015). “My skin color stops me from leading”: Tracking, identity, and student dynamics in a racially mixed school. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 17(3), 76-90.

    Abstract: The practice of separating students according to ability level, also known as academic tracking, allows racially mixed schools to maintain segregated classrooms. This article examines the effects of academic tracking on the racial identity and educational opportunities of students at a mixed-race suburban charter school. Through five months of participant observation research, I found that the long-term practice of academic tracking created racial boundaries among students, silenced students of color in honors classes, and limited educational opportunity for all students. However, subsequent efforts to detrack, although superficial, resulted in positive outcomes for all students.

    Methods: Qualitative study of one mixed race charter school with observations and interviews of students and teachers.

    Key findings: Students saw race as significantly impacting their school success with Black students with higher GPAs reporting being discouraged from taking higher level courses because they wouldn’t be able to handle it. Students saw the school as sending out a message that Black kids were dumb and White kids were smart.

    Effects of academic tracking

    Many of the studies presented earlier also touch on the effects of academic tracking from a negative impact on academic outcomes for students in the lower tracks to perpetuation of racial and class inequalities in schools. The following studies, and books, look at the individual and societal impacts of tracking. Generally, the researchers have found depressed academic opportunities and outcomes for students in the lower tracks and negative impacts on income mobility for society as a whole.

    Oakes’s (2005) book on tracking draws heavily on her original research from the 1980s.  Read more

    Citation: Oakes, J. (2005). Keeping track: How schools structure inequality, 2nd ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press

    Methods: While Oakes has done extensive work on the effects of tracking, many of the findings in this book come from a study of 25 high schools completed in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

    Effects of tracking:

    “Learning the content and processes of classrooms under tracking systems” (p.61)

    “When we look at the differences in these non-subject related learning goals next to the differences in curricular content, we see similar patterns. Students are being exposed to  knowledge and taught behaviors that differ not only educationally but in socially important ways. Students at the top are exposed to the knowledge that is highly valued in our culture, knowledge that identifies its possessors as “educated.”” (p.91)

    “The knowledge and behaviors taught to low-track students are, for the most part, of another sort altogether.” (p.92) 

    “Cycle of conditions that enhance opportunities for high-track students– more time set aside for learning by teachers, more actual class time observed to be taken up with learning activity, more time expected to be spent on homework, fewer students observed off-task, students’ perceptions of learning as the thing they do most in class, and more of the kind of instructional practice that is likely to motivate students to learn and decrease the time needed to do so. We have also seen that conditions were such that low-track students’ opportunities were more restricted in all these ways” (p.111)

    “Trust, cooperation, and even good will among students were far less characteristic of low-track classes than of high.” (p.132).

    “Students in low-track classes tended to be saying that school’s all right, but I’m not so good. In contrast, students in high-track classes were feeling pretty good both about their schools and themselves.” (143-144)

    Brunello and Checchi (2007) compared the effects of school stratification across countries.    Read more

    Citation: Brunello, G., & Checchi, D. (2007). Does school tracking affect equality of opportunity? New international evidence. Economic Policy, 22, 781–862.

    Abstract: This paper investigates whether the interaction between family background and secondary school tracking affects human capital accumulation. A widely shared view is that more tracking reinforces the role of parental privilege, and thereby reduces equality of opportunities. This may occur for several reasons, including peer effects (more talented students are gathered together), teacher sorting (better teachers prefer teaching better students), differences in curricula (academic oriented schools – like the German gymnasium, the French lycée, the British grammar school or the Italian liceo – teach abilities that increase the probability of entering college) and/or differences in resource endowment. Compared to the current literature, which focuses on early outcomes, such as test scores at 13 and 15 years old, we look at later outcomes, including literacy, dropout rates, college enrolment, employability and earnings. While we do confirm the common view that school tracking reinforces the impact of family background when looking at educational attainment and labour market outcomes, we do not confirm the same results when studying its impact on literacy and on-the-job training. Overall school tracking has an ambiguous effect in our sample of countries. On the one hand, and consistently with the previous literature, tracking has a detrimental impact on educational attainment, because it prevents some individuals from further progressing to the tertiary level of education (the diversion effect). On the other hand, the curricula offered in vocational schools seem more effective in promoting further training and adult competences (the specialization effect), thereby reducing the impact of parental background on these two outcomes. Thus, reducing the extent of student tracking, either by raising the age of first selection or by reducing the number of tracks available, may be appropriate for increasing intergenerational mobility in educational attainment, but may increase social exclusion for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

    Methods: The researchers used an econometrics approach to compare the effects of tracking across several European countries and the United States.

    Key findings: The researchers found that school stratification reduced equality of opportunity.

    Mijs (2016) compared international testing data from 24 countries to investigate the effects of school stratification.     Read more

    Citation: Mijs, M. (2016). Stratified failure: Educational stratification and students’ attributions of their mathematics performance in 24 countries. Sociology of Education, 89(2), 137-153.

    Abstract: Country rankings based on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) invite politicians and specialists to speculate about the reasons their countries did well or failed to do well. Rarely, however, do we hear from the students on whose performance these rankings are based. This omission is unfortunate for two reasons. First, research suggests that how students explain their academic performance has important consequences for their future achievements. Second, prior studies show that students’ attributions of success and failure in education can develop into explanations for social inequalities in adulthood. This article draws on PISA 2012 data on 128,110 secondary school students in 24 countries to explore how educational stratification shapes students’ explanations of their academic performance. I find that students in mixed-ability groups tend to attribute their mathematics performance to their teachers and to (bad) luck, whereas vocational- and academic-track students are more likely to blame themselves for not doing well. These differences between mixed-ability group students and tracked students are more pronounced in school systems where tracking is more extensive. I conclude by discussing how these findings speak to the broader impact of educational stratification on students’ psychology and cognition and the legitimization of inequalities.

    Methods: Used international student testing data to compare 110 secondary schools in 24 countries.

    Key findings: In more tracked systems, students were more likely to legitimize inequalities and to blame  their lack of ability for their track placement. In more mixed ability systems, students tended to attribute their success to teachers or to luck.

    Schofield (2010) completed a literature review of international research on the effects of ability grouping.     Read more

    Citation: Schofield, J. (2010). International evidence on ability grouping with curriculum differentiation and the achievement gap in secondary schools. Teachers College Record, 112(5), 1492-1528.

    Abstract: 

    Background/Context: The achievement gap between students from different backgrounds is an issue of grave concern in the United States and in many other developed countries. U.S. research suggests that tracking and other forms of ability grouping with curriculum differentiation may be implicated in increasing this gap. Unfortunately, U.S. researchers often neglect the increasingly rich and methodologically sophisticated literature from other developed countries related to this topic.
    Purpose/Objective: This article brings readers’ attention to a wide variety of high-quality research that is commonly underused by U.S. scholars interested in the origins of the achievement gap. It does this by reviewing what research from other developed countries says regarding two fundamental questions addressed by U.S. researchers: (1) Is having higher achieving schoolmates/classmates commonly associated with larger achievement gains for secondary school students? and (2) Is ability grouping with curriculum differentiation commonly associated with a larger achievement gap for secondary school students? This article explores the latter question in ways not typically possible in the U.S. Specifically, it asks: (a) Do hierarchical tiered educational systems, which provide separate schools with markedly different curricula for students with different abilities and career aspirations, increase the achievement gap? and (b) Do school systems that have relatively large amounts of ability grouping with curriculum differentiation or that start this practice early have a larger achievement gap than others?
    Research Design: A narrative literature review was conducted focused on the preceding questions. High-quality research typically (a) conducted in secondary schools in other developed countries, (b) authored by researchers outside the United States, and/or (c) published in non-U.S.-based sources is highlighted.
    Conclusions/ Recommendations: International research supports the conclusion that having high-ability/high-achieving schoolmates/classmates is associated with increased achievement. It also suggests that ability grouping with curriculum differentiation increases the achievement gap. For example, attending a high-tier school in a tiered system is linked with increased achievement, whereas attending a low-tier school is linked with decreased achievement, controlling for initial achievement. Furthermore, there is a stronger link between students’ social backgrounds and their achievement in educational systems with more curriculum differentiation and in those with earlier placement in differentiated educational programs as compared with others. However, numerous methodological issues remain in this research, which suggests both the need for caution in interpreting such relationships and the value of additional research on mechanisms that may account for such relationships.

    Methods: A literature review of studies on ability grouping by researchers outside of the United States.

    Key findings: Ability grouping increases the achievement gap between different groups of students, with early ability grouping in elementary schools playing an important role. Regardless on initial academic achievement, attending lower tiered programs is negatively related to achievement gains. Teachers behaviors are influenced by students’ backgrounds. Peers play a significant role in student learning.

    Burris’s (2014) book on detracking has an overview of research on academic tracking as well as information specifically on detracking.     Read more

    Citation: Burris, C. (2014). On the same track: How schools can join the twenty-first-century struggle against resegregation. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

    Effects of tracking: “After four decades of research, the pattern that emerged was clear– most studies showed that low-track classes depress student achievement and that the achievement gap between low- and hig-achieving students widens over time due to tracking.” (p.53)

    Race and tracking: “Racial and class stratification was a clear result of tracking, whether segregation was the intent or not” (p.35)