From: [log in to unmask]
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: more on tracking
Date: Wed, Nov 10, 1999, 9:56 AM
The discussion topic at last week's Central Vermont Math Consortium was
related to challenging all students appropriately. Despite a trend to teach
mathematics in heterogeneous groups in order to provide ALL students with
equal access to a challenging curriculum, there was concern expressed that
inequities may, in fact, be exacerbated by heterogeneous grouping. Students
with little confidence/knowledge often shut down and become uninvolved in
math class throughout middle school until they are finally in tracked high
school classes where they breathe a sigh of relief.
Two relevant issues brought up by Kathy Johnson (Equity Specialist at VISMT)
in a recent memo re: tracking were that 1) low level classes are often
by the least qualified teachers and 2)low level classes are often very
unengaging - mostly basic skills and little that challenges students to
about difficult concepts. One answer is simply NOT to do these things if we
track. If we are aware that these are barriers, it would be much simpler to
address these issues by provided challenging, standards-based curricula to
ALL students and to be sure that highly qualified teachers were teaching the
lowest performing students.
One participant at the meeting talked about how his middle school has gone
back to tracking -- one small pull-out class of low performing students per
grade level -- in which the students are given the same demanding curriculum
as the regular students in all core subjects. He claims that the program
(now in its second year) is dramatically more successful than what had been
in place: there is NO stigma attached to being in the "lower" level group,
the students are very engaged and are achieving much more than before, all
the teachers (L.A., math, science and soc. st.) find it's their very
class to teach, and the students are much more willing to take risks than
they were in heterogeneous classes. The atmosphere in this pull-out class
positive and enjoyable for all!!
One thought I have is that if the lower performing students are pulled out,
then the "special needs" students who remain in the regular class are those
who need to be challenged. When the diversity is so great in a
setting, and the time so limited to do those things which might make
hetereogeneous groups successful (for ex, in Japan teachers often teach 3
per day and have an assistant in all classes with whom to consult every day
about the direction of the next day's lesson), both the highest performing
and low achieving students lose out. It is difficult to justify giving
attention to a student who understands everything when others are confused
and crying out --or just plain tuned out -- in the same class.
I agree that, in the ideal world of unlimited time to do it right, a
heterogeneous classroom might be the best situation; but will it take so
long for a full-time teacher -- with virtually no prep time -- to become
skillful in teaching heterogeneous groups that too many promising students
(at both ends of the spectrum) are lost in the process?
At the CVMC meeting we came to no real agreements on this issue, but we
definitely agreed that there are no simple answers.
I would be very interested to hear more comments on this topic.