Is Educational Tracking Productive or Does it Produce Academic Inequity?

In all phases of K-12 education: elementary school, middle school, and high school, it has become the norm to group students together based on their perceived academic aptitude. This is what is known as “educational tracking.” It began in the 1920s. With most schools, there was a temporary break from this in the 1960s and early 1970s, because they believed that minorities were being wrongly classified in the public-school system.

How students are classified

Classifying students into specific groups is done in various ways. Children are tested regularly in the classrooms and through standardized tests and IQ tests, starting as early as Kindergarten. These tests are used to determine if the student should blend placed in the general classroom or if they should partake in something considered to be more at their speed, such as special needs classes, college prep, vocational, and honors courses.

In some schools, the classification of students is based on teacher recommendations and a student’s motivation. However, if the student and teacher do not get along, the child can be judged unfairly.

In schools today, they have what is called “leveling systems.” This was developed to help students who struggle to receive additional instruction to help them catch up with their peers. For example, while some students will take algebra in 9th grade, others will have to take pre-algebra first. A student who is considered advanced enough to go straight to algebra may find themselves in class with older students.

The real dangers of educational tracking

Though there is still the open question of whether students are being placed in the correct groups. Many believe that minority children and those from low economic classes are unjustly discriminated against and placed in lower groups based on anything but their education level. This was proven by the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. They posted the results of three studies that looked into the groups that students were placed in.

What the teachers in the study did not realize is that all of the children had the same grades. They were learning and testing at the exact same level. They were told that some of the children, including minorities, came from a lower socioeconomic background.

In the end, the teachers did as the researchers theorized, the minorities and those seen as a part of the lower class were grouped together and considered to be operating at a lower level academically, and their Caucasian or middle-class peers were grouped together and considered to be operating at a higher level academically. All three of those studies showed the same results. This has proven that educational tracking can produce the wrong results out of bias.

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