Academic Tracking to Solve Racial Issues in School

Throughout every teacher’s career in education, an obstacle will undoubtedly stand in his or her way. These issues may present themselves as simple corrections of behavior, but more commonly, problems such as addressing race and ethnicity are an even trickier and more problematic issue. The question of utilizing academic tracking as a form of homogenous intellect among students in the classroom is ever present. Students of varying cultural backgrounds and ethnicities claim to be those that feel the most significant of repercussions. This problem can potentially be solved with academic tracking- putting students in classes with others who have similar academic levels as their own. This gives students the ability to work in accordance to a learning style, and be in classrooms more fitted for individuals.

Dividing people in groups based on ability is nothing revolutionary in the academic world. It has been seen all throughout history, from armies to athletes, it has its purpose and place respectively. The practice of incorporating academic tracking in the classroom allows the school board to properly track an entire grade’s ability appropriately. In response, teachers are able to consistently challenge the students regardless if they are in advanced placement calculus or remedial level algebra. According to (Rubin 2008), “Tracking has been refined to lean more towards a subject by subject basis rather that a person by person basis. This means that students could be in classes with their peers, as to Math vs. English.” This allows students who struggle in a given class to approach at an appropriate pace and not fall behind, while also allowing students who, on the other hand, understand the curriculum better as a whole to advance uninhibited.

With honors and AP level courses available at nearly every school, the combinations of classes with rigor and without, are seemingly limitless. In most high schools, signing up for challenging courses is voluntary. For example, if a student were to sign up for honors literature, it is not required of them to additionally take an honors math. This allows for an even deeper level of grouping, in which students are not pigeon holed into an all-encompassing academia. In one particular study conducted by William Carbonaro, a Sociology Professor at Notre Dame, his team found that in Massachusetts, for every additional track of math starting in the 9th grade, 3% more of the student body scores at the advanced level for the state standardized test (Carbonaro 2005).

Unfortunately, as with any method of teaching, academic tracking is considered controversial and problematic. Most commonly, courses that are considered rigorous and more challenging are predominately filled with upper-middle class white students, while the remedial courses are often taught to people with different ethnic and racial backgrounds. Due to a lack of resources outside of the classroom, linguistic barriers, and financial restraints, many ethnicities are found in lower level academia. According to Pugach, “Jumping tracks is often difficult… Once in the lower track, always in the lower track.” It is imperative that the teacher, at this point in time, acknowledges a student’s cultural or lingual difference in order to allow them to progress to a higher-level course. Culturally responsive pedagogy states that teachers design instructions that builds on what students already know while stretching them beyond the familiar (Pugach 2009). Thus, with a student’s ethnic or lingual differences aside, they have the ability to get to similar levels as their peers in terms of academic success. While academic tracking has been a teaching style widely practiced and utilized since the 1920’s, it is important to realize that there are certain underlying issues that need to be addressed.

Students should be urged to explore all of their options before filling their schedule with either all advanced or remedial level courses. Academic tracking can be non-discriminatory and significantly beneficial if employed correctly in any given high school. It is imperative, regardless of academic level, that teachers challenge the class as a whole, while also incorporating culturally responsive teaching to incorporate their minority students. With multiple areas of intellect to be challenged for the student, from sciences to literature, there is ample room for success when the teacher utilizes academic tracking. If this were more strongly implemented, excellence could be achieved in both advanced placement and low-level courses abroad all races and ethnicities.



2 thoughts on “Academic Tracking to Solve Racial Issues in School

  1. I agree with what you are saying that certain kinds of people will be in the more advanced courses. I also think though that it just depends on the area that the school is located in. In my school i took all of the most advanced courses but i also had the option of taking less hard classes that i was having trouble in. Having the option of taking these classes should be up to the student not the school. I was at the lower track when i was very young but i made my way to the top throughout my years in school.

  2. Your blog about tracking is extremely relevant to me, as in my EDTHP 115 class; we recently just discussed in depth the concept of tracking and how it relates to social reproduction and meritocracy in education. I was unaware of these terms before taking this class, but social reproduction is the concept of someone receiving opportunities because they are passed down from generation – one’s socioeconomic status or family background determines their success. On the other hand, meritocracy relates to the idea of working hard for opportunities and having to earn them.
    It is good you mentioned both sides of the ‘argument’ for tracking. I don’t have a concrete opinion on tracking because I agree a little with both sides. On one side, using the practice of tracking evens out the playing field for students, and students have to work their way up to ‘high levels’ of classes such as math levels if they want to do so. In 5th grade, all the classes in my public school had to take math tests to determine what level of math was the most appropriate – below grade level, grade level, or advanced grade level.
    On the other hand, however, tracking sometimes praises the students who are in the higher levels and degrades those in the lower levels. When students say they are in AP classes, they get praised because of how advanced ‘advanced placement’ classes seem to be, regardless of their achievement in the class or what grade they have. And, some argue that social reproduction does play into tracking, because those who have lower socioeconomic statuses tend to not have grown up with the same resources (i.e.: level of outside school education like tutors and services) and will thus be in the lower tracking levels from the start.

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