Detracking for Excellence and Equity

Detracking for Excellence and Equity

Detracking for Excellence and Equity

Detracking for Excellence and Equity


Ability grouping. Leveling systems. Streaming. This is the modern way of talking about tracking -- the traditional practice of sorting and selecting students based on test scores and other criteria, and then steering these groups into "the most appropriate" course of study.

In 1987, New York's suburban Rockville Centre School District faced the fact that its longstanding tracking system was resulting in unequal educational opportunities and allowing racial and socioeconomic stratification of its student population. School leaders embarked on an ambitious program of reform: reexamining beliefs about intelligence, ability, and instruction, and offering all students the opportunity to study a rigorous curriculum in heterogeneous classrooms.

In this book, authors Carol Corbett Burris and Delia T. Garrity, veterans of the Rockville Centre School District, offer an experience-based and research-supported argument that detracking--implemented with planning, patience, and persistence--can do in every school district what it did in theirs: raise achievement across the board and dramatically narrow the achievement gap. Their main goal is a practical one: to provide educational leaders with proven strategies for launching, sustaining, and monitoring a successful detracking reform. Here, you'll read

• Why detracking is necessary, the benefits it brings, and how to build support among teachers and parents

• How to revise curriculum to "level-up" instruction

• How to establish a multiyear, personalized professional development program to help teachers address new instructional needs

• How to best support effective teaching and learning in a heterogeneous classroom

Detracking for Excellence and Equity outlines a comprehensive approach built on self-reflection, direct action, vigilant supervision, and a set of very clear beliefs: that schools and opportunity matter; that acceleration and enrichment will improve all students' achievement; and that all students deserve access to the best curriculum.


There was a time when few policymakers, educators, or members of the public presumed that all school children could reach the same level of standards-based proficiency. Indeed, schools, districts, states, and the federal government promoted the idea that different children should strive for different levels of accomplishment. That has changed.

Today’s standards-based education reforms and the No Child Left Behind act require all children to reach proficiency. Furthermore, official policies and rhetoric encourage the highest levels of achievement—going far beyond the lowest tolerable definitions of “proficiency.” And yet, ability grouping and tracking remain robustly persistent in schools, even though no other schooling practice leaves children behind more systematically. The result is that countless children will not reach even the low proficiency thresholds many states have set.

In the face of standards-based reform, many but by no means all policymakers, researchers, and educators have proposed eliminating tracking. Such recommendations have been bolstered by research, including the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, which concluded in 1998 that tracking “fails to provide satisfactory achievement for either average or advanced students,” and by research syntheses, such as that by the National Research Council in 1999 documenting strong negative . . .

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