Tracking: The Ailments of an Academic Labeling System
Tracking is a vestige of an American society when there was once a high influx of immigrant children and a dramatic increase in enrollment numbers. It had been used in American schools, along with other overseas countries for various reasons, as a mechanism to sort children viewed as having limited preparation or capacity for schooling from native children. It was needed to organize a coherent curriculum system that eventually was formed into a pyramidal, hierarchal base to befit the changing economy. However, tracking foundational principles has lost a lot of its accommodating appeals as students and their aspirations become more versatile in an economy demanding various kinds of workers. Once before, tracking offered a universal way of organizing the grade levels according to age and content mastery up until a certain grade level, usually eight; however, in the 21st century with a burgeoning, diverse economy academic uniformity and rigid curriculum segregation into distinct classes has become a more counteractive practice. Tracking is an ideal sorting mechanism to categorize students according to their intellectual aptitude; however, by using this academic label system it changes the dynamics of student-teacher relationship, creates hindrances towards gaining the full opportunities to learn and access of knowledge by all, and derails the categorized “low-performing students” likelihood of being admitted into reputable post-secondary institutions.
By identifying students publicly and openly according to their intellectual aptitudes and accomplishments, the hierarchal separation system to “facilitate instruction” operates counteractively against forming successful, healthy relationships between students and their teachers. Starting as early as middle school when students are implicitly labeled as either part of the “advanced”, “average”, or “low” academic achievement group, they are placed in a susceptible situation of either favorable or inauspicious circumstances because of the predictable characteristics teachers tend to attach to a particular course-level class (Oakes, 3). With these ascribed traits, students become globally identified and valued in terms of the group they are a part of. Students in high-achieving groups are seen to possess favorable depictions as “bright, smart, the best and top students”—overall good students and their value at the school are clear. However, students in slow-achieving groups suffer from identifications as “slow, disabled people”; further epithets include “dummies, sweathogs, and yahoos” (Molnar, 17). Every child has a different relationship with their teacher because of individual characteristics beyond their intellectual capacity and other academic traits, such as personality, but when these temperamental qualities are overlooked because of labeling and there’s an imbalance of treatment towards certain students, tracking fails. “Above-average” students have been shown to share a more amicable relationship with both their peers and teachers mainly because for the majority of their academic career they have been encouraged to seek challenging tasks, received praise for their excelling grades, which is of course well-deserved. On the other hand, low-achievement students can sometimes receive teachers who are less patient and easily frustrating as they attempt to explain certain concepts to a student who takes longer to grasp it. This may be mainly due to the preferences held by most teachers in deciding whether they want to teach advanced/honors classes or those that require more attention and instruction, thus creating a difference in teacher attitude. Certain negative teacher attitudes due to a discontent placement into a lower-track class can be linked to the fact tracking often “leads to unequal educational opportunities by distributing formal and informal educational resources unequally to different students, especially in...
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