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Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 12 2010

Tracking kids

Whether you call it “tracking” or “ability grouping” I’m against it.

Yet all too often it is what schools decide to do, usually in some kind of last ditch effort to make the school’s AYP. Too often it’s done in low-income schools despite research showing that tracking tends to disproportionately hurt Latino and African American children.

My school has been tracking kids in grades 6-8 for as long as I can remember, lately they have been slowly creeping this policy down in age. Another charter school in my district has began to track kids beginning in 1st grade. Yes, kids are being tracked beginning at age 6. When I think about it I feel like throwing up.

So this week when rumors floated that our 4th grade classes (4-5 weeks into the school year) were going to be mixed around and leveled I was livid. (Actually, that’s an understatement, what’s more extreme than livid?) I believed it, too, because that’s exactly what they did last year. They took the kids into the library, called out names and informed the kids of their new teachers. They did this without giving the teachers any warning either. The kids heard the news as the teachers heard the news.

My first problem with this is that I looped with my students because I wanted to teach them again. At the risk of sounding insensitive, I’ve trained them the way I want them and I’m already loving how smoothly this second year is going. But the more important issue is that this is possibly illegal, and certainly unethical. It is being done because a few individuals think that it will “be easier” on the teachers. Guess what, it’s not about the adults. It’s about the kids.

Of course the argument is that “it worked with last year’s 4th graders.” My argument, oh yeah, which ones? The “high” kids? What about all the “low kids” who actually went from basic to below basic on the MAP. What about the kids who decided that it didn’t matter if they tried or not since they were stupid anyway. What about the kids who showed NEGATIVE growth according to NWEA testing? That happened with too great a frequency to be simply a fluke. What about the teachers of the “low kids” who gave up in December because it was too hard to teach a class like that?

I’ve taught a heterogeneous group of kids at my school for the past 3 years and I’ve managed to have a class average growth of 1.5 – 2.0 years in reading, math, and language arts. Some of the students who grew the most are the highest AND the lowest. I’m honestly not sure what I’m doing right. I can’t bottle it and sell it, but something is working in my classroom. If it isn’t broken don’t fix it. I would rather go back to selling shoes than lose any of my students.

Four out of five people on my team agree that this is a bad idea, the fifth being the lead teacher. I went against her wishes and spoke to the principal myself. Thankfully the principal said that she wouldn’t do anything we weren’t comfortable with. I still have a feeling this isn’t the last I will hear about this issue.

One Response

  1. Wess

    Talk to me more about “tracking.” What is it that makes it a bad idea? Can’t you do it in a way that preserves students’ self-worth?

    As a newbie, I’ve often wished my kids were separated based on which skills they currently have and which ones they need. Differentiation is hard, and I could serve all of my students better if I could teach a lesson that didn’t frustrate my kids who are behind and bore my kids who are ahead.
    I don’t think separating kids necessarily means you have to lower your expectations of some groups–it just means you can address more students’ individual needs more efficiently.

    … right?

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An Elementary School Teacher in the Show Me State

St. Louis
Elementary School
Elementary Education

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