To Track or Not to Track in Middle School (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Finding balance

George (1995) contends that “the claims and counter-claims about the research are so confusing and contradictory that practitioners must come to their own conclusions about the most reliable generalizations that can be drawn” (p. 47). So while middle level philosophy in Turning Points 2000 states that “Classes should include students of diverse needs, achievement levels, interests, and learning styles, and instruction should be differentiated to take advantage of the diversity, not ignore it” (Jackson & Davis, 2000, p. 23) the reality of what actually occurs in our schools often does not follow this philosophy. A major benefit of the team structure, which we will discuss later in the chapter, is that it supports heterogeneous grouping of students while allowing for grouping and regrouping as determined by individual student needs and the curriculum.

To make heterogeneous grouping successful, instructional practices need to respond to student needs. There are numerous teaching practices that give students opportunities to learn in diverse ways. This variety of teaching practices is essential in creating a developmentally responsive classroom, one that embraces heterogeneous groups.

Some middle schools restrict grouping to subjects that are overtly hierarchical in nature. A common configuration of courses involves tracking in math and language arts with heterogeneous grouping in science and social studies. For those adamantly opposed to any kind of tracking, it may be difficult to accept this compromise. However, tracking is deeply embedded in our schools and is unlikely to be eliminated, regardless of the mounting evidence against it (George, 1995). Chances are you will encounter some form of it in your school, and may have no choice as to whether or not to practice tracking.

To track or not to track is a serious issue with potentially far-reaching consequences. It’s therefore an issue that merits our best thinking and our most thoughtful actions. We’ve only scratched the surface; please take time to explore the homogeneous and heterogeneous grouping issue in greater depth. Keep in mind that a homogeneous middle school class is an oxymoron. There are not 2, much less 20, middle school students who respond in the same way and at the same time to any given scenario.

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