NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Studies Vindicate Strict Teachers and "Tracking"

August 20, 2001

Studies from the National Bureau of Economic Research document how tougher grading standards can enhance learning, and "tracking" -- putting high achievers in separate classes -- helps both those students and lower achievers.

The first study, by David Figlio of the University of Florida and Maurice E. Lucas of Alachua County (Fla.) school board, examined the performance of all third- to fifth-graders in the Gainesville school district from the mid- to late-1990s.

  • The researchers found that when students were shifted from a teacher who was lenient in grading one year to a teacher with stricter grading standards the next year, their academic performance significantly improved.
  • The results held up regardless of students' relative achievement levels and racial or economic backgrounds.

The second study, by Figlio and Marianne E. Page of the University of California, Davis, assessed the practice of tracking -- or grouping students in classes by performance or ability.

  • Contrary to critics' fears that tracking would hurt disadvantaged and low-ability students by removing them from association with their higher-achieving peers, the researchers discovered no evidence to support that theory -- but strong signs that it often helps them.
  • While the reasons for this aren't clear, the authors observe that schools which track tend to attract higher income students -- whose presence may result in greater school spending and other resources benefiting all students.

Source: Gene Koretz, "Economic Trends: What Makes Sally Learn," Business Week, August 27, 2001; David N. Figlio and Maurice E. Lucas, "Do High Grading Standards Affect Student Performance?" NBER Working Paper No. W7985, October 2000, National Bureau of Economic Research; David N. Figlio and Marianne E. Page, "School Choice and the Distributional Effects of Ability Tracking: Does Separation Increase Equality?" NBER Working Paper No. W8055, December 2000, National Bureau of Economic Research; Linda Gorman, "School Style Can Raise Achievement," NBER Digest, July 2001, National Bureau of Economic Research.

For NBER Digest text


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