In this article, Pivovarova (2013) discussed and evaluated the school tracking system. Tracks are classrooms or programs targeted toward homogenous groups. As an economist, her perspective is interesting in that she is considered the financial cost of the trade off between providing an educational experience that is equal or efficient. Pivovarova (2013) states “school tracking is defined as ability grouping with or without design of the specific curriculum for different ability groups. The opponents of tracking argue that channeling students into different tracks increases the inequality of opportunity and aggravates future economic inequality. Proponents of tracking usually cite the increased efficiency when students are grouped by abilities in schools or classes” (pg. 4).
The article includes a thorough literature review and presentation of current models. I found it interesting that a mathematical formula was used to evaluate the data and try to assess the influence of students’ academic performance on one another. The Linear-in-means model of classroom interaction seems to be the common model used to assess peer learning. Pivovarova (2013) was analyzing data available through existing educational assessments and applying this model to determine the model’s applicability. In the literature review, Pivovarova (2013) shared multiple research views and stated, “the overall consensus in recent literature on peer effects in education is clear – the data do not support the simple linear-in-means model. The evidence suggests that the structure and nature of peer effects in elementary and middle school are more complicated than the standard linear-in-means model implies” (pg. 7).
The researcher was questioning how peers in classrooms affect classroom learning and how do the students in the classroom complement and influence the learning environment. I had always thought of success in school being a function of ability and attitude. I have certainly always loved learning. However, my experience included tracks. I was tracked in gifted programs and had some fantastic educational experiences. I have always wondered what my other classmates did when we all left the room to participate in “gifted” activities. This was my peer, my community. The cost of delivering this type of unique experience for gifted students was the additional instructor and the expenses of the additional programming. When considering the cost of that, the school systems need to consider the cost of delivering a program that is targeting only one group. This would not be inline with an approach trying to provide a high quality experience to all students. There is a cost, according to Pivovarova’s (2013) findings. The costs are financial and beyond in the sense that students who are low achievers might not be receiving the best education if grouped in a certain way. Ultimately, the findings were that high achieving students added to the environment advanced the group even further.
I work with a group of high achieving students. I define them that way based upon a couple of measures. The first is the College Index (CI) score. This is a measure that is determined based upon a variety of typical high school related measures (SAT score, ACT score, class ranking, GPA). The average CI score of the students I work with is 126. The highest possible score is 144. (Interestingly, there are specific programs at ASU for students who have a score less than 100 and those who score at a high level are invited to other specific programs). The other measure I use to qualify my evaluation of the students is that our major has the most students than any other major in the Barrett Honors College (BHC). We have two groups of students in the major, those in BHC and those not in BHC. Pivovarova (2013) found that high ability students do well when grouped with other high ability students. However, the impact of lower ability students was not as clear.
As I read the article, I reflected on the students in this major and what the experience must be like as a “lower” achieving student. I’m not even certain how I would define that, except that I do perceive an imbalance between the two groups based on how they refer to one another. It definitely made me reflect on the programming we deliver and how we frame advising conversations with students.
Pivovarova, M. (2013). Should we track them or should we mix them? Tempe, AZ: Arizona State University.
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