In the article “Should We Track or Should We Mix Them?” (Pivovarova, 2014), the issue of class tracking is tackled. Though I fear this will be a controversial statement, to put it in more simple terms, this article sought to answer whether its okay for the ‘smart’ kids to be together in one class and have a separate class for the ‘slower’ kids. As a teacher, this is a question that I have been struggling with for the past seven years, and truthfully, I still do not have a clear answer. I can see both sides. I get the argument that Pivovarova (2014) summarizes that ability tracking allows teachers to specialize, meaning that they can really individualize the curriculum and instruction for the particular ability of their students. In this model, teachers can more efficiently plan lessons that align to student needs and more easily pace the curriculum.
I myself have benefited from ability tracking as a teacher. When I taught 7th grade English language arts, I had a group of the ‘high ability’ students in one class and ‘low ability’ students in another class. Just as a side note, I will not refer to the high ability group as the high achieving students, because that implies that all high ability students are high achieving students, which I can assure you is definitely not true. Anyway, within this context, it was very easy for me to form a rigorous curriculum for my higher ability students specifically. Throughout that process, I realized that there were modifications that I could make to make my instruction as strong for the lower ability students and get them to reach the same outcomes. I had much more guided practice of the instructional objective for that day with my lower ability group. I chunked out larger pieces of text so they were not overwhelmed by so many words on the page. They were doing the same work and taking the same tests, but the strategies I used were unique to the ability level of the group. To be truthful, I felt like I was a better teacher with my lower ability group. The achievement level in my lower ability class was equivalent to my high ability class, making the need for these ability groups fairly obsolete the following year.
Pivovarova (2014), however, argues that though there can be benefits to ability tracking, overall, it negatively affects lower ability students. Previous literature that she reviewed asserts this, though I am a bit skeptical about what data suggests that. There was some research that suggested that there was no positive or negative effect from tracking and some that suggested tracking was a positive thing. From my own experience, I really think the effectiveness of ability tracking as to do with how well the teacher is at ensuring that all classes are getting the same curriculum and being held to the same high standards. Another point that I most definitely agree with Pivovarova (2014) on is that the effectiveness of this model has a lot to do with peer interactions. For me personally, I think I was successful because I had students engage in the same projects and discussions, no matter what class there were in. Though, I cannot ignore the fact that the author brings up that having high achievers is good for everyone and low-achievers are not harmful to achievement of everyone else (Pivovarova, 2014), I question this notion that low-achievers and low-ability are synonymous. One of the reasons why I believe my ‘low-ability’ class was so successful was due to certain students being able to really shine. They proved that they were and could be consistently high achieving because they had the confidence to move up and be considered one of those higher ability students within this group of peers. They were not lost and timid to speak up, unlike when they were in the same setting as the higher ability students. So, though I definitely see the argument for not tracking, I do not agree that high ability means that you are high achieving and vice versa.
I also assure you that I do not love the term ‘low ability’ but have yet to find a great alternative; hope everyone can give me the benefit of the doubt here.
Pivovarova, M. (2014). Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Tempe: Arizona State University.