Tracking Is a Hot-Button Issue—Follow-Up to Recent Post

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 04, 2009 1 min read
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As you know I’m new to this curriculum beat, and I gather from the comments on the blog entry I just posted today, “The Problem of Tracking in Middle Schools,” that I’ve hit on a hot topic.

Prompted by reader Jginberg, I just called Stacey A. Kopnitsky, the assistant principal at Cabin John Middle School, to ask her what happened to the performance of the gifted and talented students at her school after they were mixed in English-language arts classes with the low-performing students.

She says that those students scored “advanced,” the highest of three levels, on the Maryland state English-language-arts test both before and after the change in policy. “They were maintaining and doing as well as before,” she said.

But she also acknowledged that the teachers and administrators in the school didn’t look at the test-score data in any more detail than to make sure that the top-performing students were staying within the advanced level. She said they were more focused on the progress of the students with basic skills.

Kopnitsky added that no parents have complained about the policy change. She believes that with her school’s reducing tracking in English-language arts, it was important to have two teachers in the classroom (before the change, each class had only one teacher), so that instruction could be differentiated. “When you have two adults in the classroom, it makes the opportunity for groupings, transitions, and delivery of curriculum much smoother,” she noted.

Which causes me to wonder, what’s the difference between “tracking” and “differentiated instruction” within a classroom? I can see how one answer leads to another question.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.