To the Editor:
I read with interest James R. Delisle’son the failure of differentiated instruction. I think the need for differentiated instruction came as a result of the failures of tracking.
In my opinion, the following elements can be used to develop a practice of “tracking” that allows for the best instruction for all students:
Level the courses, not the students. In the past, tracking presented single options for students. The tracking system now in use in my school, however, establishes levels for the courses, giving the student the freedom to move between levels in specific subjects. A student who struggles in math, but excels in English, can be scheduled for a lower-level math class and a higher-level English class.
Demographic awareness. A number of studies have demonstrated that racial-minority students were disproportionately placed in lower-level classes. The standard for achievement was lower for students in those classes. Administrators must be aware of the statistical breakdown of their courses. If students appear to be underrepresented in higher-level courses, then an investigation should occur to discover whether this is because of bias or a simple coincidence.
High standards for all. The problem of lower expectations for lower-level students can be addressed through state-mandated testing. Most schools should face the requirement for all students to reach the proficient level in subjects tested by the state. This will help keep the standards at an acceptable level, even for the students in lower-level courses. If there is not state-mandated testing, the responsibility for establishing high standards for courses of all levels falls to the principal and teacher-leaders.
Differentiated instruction can be a good practice with the proper conditions in place. School leaders can find a plausible method for differentiation by making an improvement on a practice of the past.
Elder High School
A version of this article appeared in the January 21, 2015 edition of Education Week as Failed Tracking Practices Led to New Instruction Methods