NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Tracking as an Educational Tool

August 3, 1999

A trend is afoot in urban schools to abolish tracking -- grouping students by ability and providing appropriate curricula for each level. Experts say abolishing tracking will damage education.

  • More than half of all urban middle schools have done away with any form of tracking in the past decade, according to Harvard University researcher Tom Loveless.
  • In his book "The Tracking Wars," he finds no evidence that abolishing tracking solves any urban education ills.
  • Today's form of tracking utilizes "ability groupings" in which children move in and out of different groups depending on their proficiency in particular courses.
  • Advocates claim that tracking helps both teachers and students by allowing teachers to move a class along in unison.

Experts say that high-performing students clearly benefit from tracking because their peers don't mock their academic abilities. And there is solid evidence that all students, regardless of their abilities, benefit from algebra classes organized by ability levels.

Opponents of tracking say that low-level performers are too often assigned poor teachers. But advocates point out that the problem is not tracking, but teacher quality.

Source: Editorial, "Move to End Ability-Based Tracks in Urban Schools is Shortsighted," USA Today, August 3, 1999.


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