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Tracking in Schools

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Updated on Nov 5, 2013

School tracking is a practice in which students in a given school are separated into different groups based on academic performance. When tracking in education gained popularity in the mid-20th century, high schools students were sorted into “vocational,” “general,” or “academic” tracks to prepare for working class jobs, skilled careers, or university attendance, respectively. School tracking determined the kinds of classes students would take in school and, largely, their careers.

Today, tracking in schools no longer means taking classes by anticipated career. Today, tracks are divided by subject matter, and paths in a track are more flexible. However, though contemporary tracking doesn’t necessarily determine a child’s future career, it is a deciding factor for some college admissions boards. Many top-tier universities strongly prefer that their applicants take advanced-level high school classes to be considered for admission.

Help pave the road to college for your child by staying involved in his academic career. Follow these handy tips to keep up to date about school tracking in your district and help your child be successful in school and beyond:

  • Speak to your child’s principal or a member from your local board of education to find out when tracking begins in your district. Learning about local tracking in schools early on means that you and your child can prepare for the shift together.
  • Find out what kinds of academic tracks are available for your child. Many schools offer advanced tracks for certain subjects; these are often available for math, science, English, and foreign languages. Your child’s school counselor should be able to tell you about advanced level tracks in your district.
  • Determine what year your child will be sorted into an advanced or average track. Is there an advanced math track that takes your child from 6th grade pre-algebra through 12th grade calculus? An honors English course for freshman that will set your child up for AP English literature in his senior year? Stay aware of these landmarks. Keep dates on your calendar to remind yourself when the beginning of each tracking program is coming up.
  • Begin prepping your child for each tracking program one year before its start. Help your child prepare for the subject with extra support at home. Encourage him to study in a fun way with thematic worksheets, interactive games, and crafts. You can even plan for outings that will help your child learn more about the subject. If your child is preparing to go into an advanced biology class, you might want to take him to a natural science museum. If he is working toward an advanced English class, go to a Shakespeare play together and talk about some of the themes and symbols in the performance.
  • Once your child has been placed in a track, ensure that he is at the appropriate level. Be involved with his academic work and regularly check in with the teacher to keep track of your kid’s academic progress. Make sure to monitor class behavior as well. Students who act out by being fidgety or disruptive may actually be bored with content that is too simple, and need to be switched to a more advanced track.
  • Talk to your child about school regularly to see how he is doing in his classes. Does he seem interested in what he’s learning? Does he need help from a parent or tutor to study or complete homework? Can he explain what he learned about that day? Gauge your child’s answers to see if he feels like he’s doing well in class. If you think your child needs to be placed in a different level, set up a meeting with his teacher to discuss your concerns.

Don’t forget that school districts that use tracking in education are doing so for the benefit of each child. Students can learn best when they are grouped with peers on a similar level, and teachers can better create classroom learning environments that suit their learning styles. No matter what track your child is in, create a positive learning environment at home and praise your child’s academic efforts to ensure that your child becomes a happy and enthusiastic learner.

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