A new study of Massachusetts middle schools contends schools that don’t track students of the same grade into multiple course levels based on their achievement have fewer students scoring at the advanced level on state standardized tests in mathematics.
The report, from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, draws on survey data from 2008-09 and from the 1990s. Defining “detracked” schools as those offering two or fewer levels of math and one level of English, science, and history, the report found that there were nearly twice as many “detracked” schools in 2009 as there were in 1991.
Holding socioeconomic factors even, the study also found that each additional level of courses offered in math is linked to a 3 percent rise in the numbers of students who score at the “advanced” level on state tests in that subject.
In a report snapshot, the Fordham Institute says the movement toward detracking, driven by “equity, gap closing, political correctness, and leaving no child behind,” has resulted in the neglect of higher-performing students.
Moreover, the study says, detracking may be hindering the progress of poor and minority students most—the same populations that detracking advocates say they are aiming to help—because the practice is most popular in high-poverty and urban schools.
Parental influence may explain why more affluent districts retain tracking practices, according to the report. Tracking tended to remain in place at schools in which parents wield greater influence and in communities where local school boards have discussed the topic.
A version of this article appeared in the December 16, 2009 edition of Education Week as More Top Scorers Found in Tracked Schools