In nearly every school district in the United States there exists a system of tracking students in mathematics that provides access to opportunities for some and serves as a barrier that extends far beyond high school for many others. Tracking students into levels undermines any well-intentioned but hollow efforts educators might make about promoting equity and empowerment. Forty years of compelling research makes clear the detrimental impact of tracking policies on all students. Based, in part, on thoroughly debunked assumptions that some students have the “math gene” and others simply do not, and never will, we have sorted students into distinctly different levels or tracks that perpetuate a discredited fixed mindset assumption. Tracking is an archaic system that has outlived its supposed usefulness and must be replaced by an inclusive system of common courses, differentiated pathways, acceleration and enrichment when warranted, and supplemental, intensified support when needed.
A parallel and equally counter-productive practice of tracking teachers contributes to the negative impacts of tracking students. More effective teachers are much more likely to teach students in upper, advanced or honors tracks, whereas less effective teachers are more likely to teach students in lower or remedial tracks. This systemic tracking of teachers is entirely contrary to efforts to provide equitable instruction for all students.
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