Regardless of the form it takes, academic tracking does little to close achievement gaps between students, according to a 20-nation study published this month in the American Journal of Education.
Around the world, researchers say, tracking tends to take two forms: traditional rigid high school tracking, such as that between academic and vocational programs; and a subtler, more flexible system in which students can enroll in different levels of classes for different subjects. To compare student outcomes for countries using each system, researchers drew on data from the 2003 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, math results for 99,000 15-year-olds in 3,400 schools.
While the two systems differ in important ways, “in terms of the key outcome math achievement gaps between tracks they do not differ dramatically,” concludes author Anna K. Chmielewski, a postdoctoral fellow in Michigan State University’s Pathways to Adulthood program.
A version of this article appeared in the May 21, 2014 edition of Education Week as Ability Grouping