Tracking System in Education: A Review of the Literature and Its Debate. Chin Sook Fui Lim Hooi Lian

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1 Tracking System in Education: A Review of the Literature and Its Debate. Chin Sook Fui Lim Hooi Lian Introduction Tracking is a common and popular achievement grouping in educational field. It is also one known effective methods in improving teaching and learning process (Hallam & Ireson, 2003). Students encounter curricular differentiation and are grouped according to their academic achievement (LeTendre, Hofer, & Shimizu, 2003). This enables teachers to fulfill the general need of students with different level of knowledge, ability, skills, and interest (Chin, 2011). However, there is debate about the relative strengths and weaknesses of tracking (Biafora & Ansalone, 2008). Proponents for tracking believe that tracking enables more individualized instruction in a classroom and therefore improve students academic achievement. However, proponents of non-tracking argued that tracking causes unequal educational opportunity to students and negative effects on lower track students. This paper offers, therefore, a review of the current knowledge about tracking and the debate of its strengths and weaknesses. Literature Review Defining Tracking Houtte and Steven (2009) defined tracking as an educational stratification that groups students according to their abilities. LeTendre, Hofer, and Shimizu (2003) stated that tracking is a sorting that separate students into groups, classes, and schools in public educational system. Meanwhile, Woolfolk (2001) defined tracking as assignment that group students into different classes and academic experiences based on achievement (p. 601). It is supported by Yonezawa, Wells, and Serna (2002) that tracking is referred to the grouping of students into courses with differentiated curriculums based on their presumed ability or achievement. Also, supported by Van de gaer, Pustjens, Van Damme, and De Munter (2006), tracking is a practice that groups students into different curricular tracks according to their abilities. In line with that, Callahan (2005) defined tracking as the assignment of students to differentiated coursework with different academic content. Hence, in general, it can be concluded that tracking is an educational stratification practice that separates, sorts, groups students into groups, classes and schools with different curricular contents according to their abilities and achievements. The term tracking and ability grouping are always used interchangeably. However, they are similar yet distinct. According to Slavin (1987), tracking and ability grouping are different in terms of scale and permanence. For tracking, the scale is bigger than ability grouping. Meanwhile, tracking lasts longer than ability grouping. Students are separated into different curricular tracks which are often called as streams in Europe and also in Malaysia. It lasts longer than one school year. On the other hand, in ability grouping, 32

2 Kurikulum students are separated into small, informal groups within a classroom for short-term and varies by subject (Gamoran, 1992). Tracking Practices in Various Countries In United States of America, tracking is referred to the practice of separate students into vocational, academic groups or bands (Callahan, 2005; Lunch & Baker, 2005). Students are tracked based on their purported interests and abilities in terms of honor, regular and remedial by their subject matter (Applebee, Langer, Nystrand & Gamoran, 2003). In United Kingdom, tracking is called streaming (Van de gaer, Pustjens & Van Damme, 2006). In Germany, students are streamed into academic or non-academic track at age ten (Muhlenweg & Puhani, 2010). Some countries have unselective admission systems for second level education such as Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Canada (Green, 1997). However, some countries have more selective system. For example, Portugal and Spain practice openness at entry but strong stratification via streaming within schools (Green, 1997). In general, various types of tracking are practiced in many countries. In major, students are grouped based on their ability (Kulik, 1992). It is the course-by-course placement that group students based on perceived academic ability, purported capacities for learning, prerequisites or prior attainment (Danzi, Reul, & Smith, 2008; Gamoran, Nystrand, Berends, & LePore, 1995; Lucas, 1999; Lunch & Baker, 2005; Yonezawa, Wells, & Serna, 2002). Structural Dimensions of Tracking Tracking and its various modifications have changed over the years. Not all tracking systems are alike. They vary along four structural dimensions: selectivity, inclusiveness, scope, and electivity. (Gamoran, 1992). Selectivity refers to the degree of homogeneity within tracks and the amount of differentiation intended by the school (Gamoran, 1992; Jones, Vanfossen, & Ensminger, 1995). The higher the degree of selectivity, the higher the size of the gap between groups. In high selective tracking system, students with high academic performance and low academic performance will be placed separately to form homogenous classes (Gamoran & Berends, 1987). For Inclusiveness, it refers to the subsequent educational opportunities available to students (Gamoran, 1992). It is also defined as the extent to which several curricular tracks are available to students (Jones, Vanfossen, & Ensminger, 1995). It can be indicated by the number of options for future attainment available. For example, a high inclusiveness school assigns more students to the college-preparatory curriculum (Gamoran, 1992). Scope refers to the placement of a student in multiple classes of the same level (Kelly, 2007). In the other words, scope is the extent to which students are located in the same track across subjects (Gamoran & Berends, 1987; Gamoran, 1992; Sorensen, 1970). A high scope school would require students who are taking honors Science to take also honors level course in other academic areas (Kelly, 2007). Wider scope tracking is more outstanding to students and greater between-track variation in students academic experiences as students are grouped for more subjects and for a longer time period than narrower scope tracking (Gamoran, 1992). 33

3 Electivity refers to the degree to which students choose or assigned to tracks (Gamoran, 1992). Low-electivity schools refer to schools that assign larger proportions of students to tracks, whereas high-electivity schools refers to schools that allow larger proportion of their students to choose their track (Kelly, 2007; Jones, Vanfossen, & Ensminger, 1995). For low-electivity schools, cognitive criteria are more strongly associated with track position compared with high-electivity schools, in which noncognitive criteria are more strongly related to track position (Jones, Vanfossen, & Ensminger, 1995). The Debate Students differ in many aspects. For examples, knowledge, ability, skills, and others (Chin & Lim, 2011). Therefore, to fulfill the general need of education of students, tracking has been practiced. In theory, tracking in which sorting students according to their ability could enhances learning. The proponents of tracking believe that low-performing students must be separated from other students and taught a simplified curriculum. This enables high-performing students to learn better without unhampered by low-performing students. As a result, low-performing students and high-performing students are able to learn according to their ability and speed. In turn, this might enhance their academic achievement. This is supported by findings of Duflo, Dupas, and Kremer (2008). They had investigated the impact of tracking on primary school students by referring to their earlier achievement. They found that the overall academic performance in tracking schools is higher than non-tracking schools and students from all levels benefited from tracking. In addition, Gamoran (1992) had examined the effect of tracking in high schools in terms of four structural characteristics of tracking: selectivity, electivitiy, inclusiness, and scope. He found that students achievement varies significantly in the magnitude of tracking. The higher the mobility in tracking system, the higher the overall of students achievement. In addition, separating students according to ability enables teachers to modify instruction according to various students needs. Teachers are able to deliver challenging content to high-tracked students, while offering more remedial assistance to low-tracked students (Ansalone & Biafora, 2004; Biafora & Ansalone, 2008). As a result, all students are able to make progress in their study. However, proponents for non-tracking pointed out their viewpoints and evidences about the weaknessess of tracking. Turner (2007) found that even though tracking has advantages but it sends unfortunate message to students in the lower level of tracking. As a result, this might trigger lower tracked students appear to be less capable when they are not. This is similar with what is reported by Zimmer (2003). He found that tracking causes no negative effect on high ability students but it reduces the positive peer effect on low ability and average ability students. Besides sending unfortunate message and reducing the positive peer effect on students in lower track, tracking also cause negative effect on teachers expectation. Steven and Vermeersch (2010) found that teachers have lower expectations of students in lower track. Consequently, they adapt their curriculum and pedagogy strategies in line with such low expectation. As a result, unequal educational opportunity exists between high-tracked students and low-tracked students. This might be the reason that students in lower track 34

4 Kurikulum tend to spend lesser effor than students in higher track, as reported by Carbonaro (2005). Conclusion This paper has sought to provide a review of tracking system in education. Every educational practice is proposed for the sake of helping students, achieving teaching and learning objectives and improving the quality of education. However, there is no perfect educational practice in this world, including tracking. As a result of the belief that grouping students according to their abilities could enhance learning, tracking has been practiced since the last century until today. However, there are negative effects of tracking reported, especially for students in lower track. This raises up a question, to track or not to track?. Ideally, no child should be left behind in education. Every child should be given equal opportunity in learning. How to make sure that equal opportunity in education should be given while improving students academic achievement through tracking, this could be a challenge in educational field that needs further investigation. References Ansalone, G. &. (2004). Elementary school teachers perceptions and attitudes to the educational structure of tracking. Education, 125(2), Biafora, F. &. (2008). Perceptions and attitudes of school principals towards school tracking: structural considerations of personal beliefs. Education, 128(4), Callahan, R. M. (2005). Tracking and High School English Learners: Limiting Opportunity to Learn. American Educational Research Journal, 42(2), Carbonaro, W. (2005). Tracking, Students Effort and Academic Achievement. Sociology of Education, 78(1), Chin, S. F., & Lim, H. L. (2011). Effect of Track Position on Students Attitude towards Science. Problem of Education in 21st Century, 35(35), Duflo, E., Dupas, P., Kremer, M., & National Bureau of Economic, R. (2008). Peer Effects and the Impact of Tracking: Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation in Kenya. NBER Working Paper No National Bureau of Economic Research, Retrieved from EBSCOhost. Gamoran, A. (1992). The Variable Effects of High Schools Tracking. American Sociological Review, 57, Gamoran, A., & Berends, M. (1987). The Effects of Stratification in Secondary Schools: Synthesis of Survey and Ethnographic Research. Review of Educational Research, 57(4),

5 Hallam, S., & Ireson, J. (2003). Secondary School Teachers Attiude towards and Beliefs about Abilit Grouping. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 73, Jones, J. D., Vanfossen, B. E., & Ensminger, M. E. (1995). Individual and Organizational Predictors of High Schools Track Placement. Sociology of Education, 68(4), Kelly, S. (2007). The Contours of Tracking in North Carolina. High School Journal, 90(4), LeTendre, G. K., Hofer, B. K., & Shimizu, H. (2003). What Is Tracking? Cultural Expectations in the United States, Germany, and Japan. American Educational Research Journal, 40(1), Slavin, R. E. (1987). Ability Grouping and Student Achievement in Elementary Schools. Review of Educational Research, 57, Steven, P. A., & Vermeersch, H. (2010). Streaming in Flemish Secondary Schools: Exploring Teachers Perceptions of and Adaptations to Students in Different Streams. Oxford Review of Education, 36(3), Turner, P. (2007). Reflections on Numeracy and Streaming in Mathematics Education. Australian Mathematics Teacher, 63(2), Van de gaer, E., Pustjens, H., Van Damme, J., & De Munter, A. (2006). Tracking and the Effects of School-related Attitudes on the Language Achievement of Boys and Girls. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 27(3), Woolfolk, A. E. (2001). Educational Psychology. USA: Allyn & Bacon. Yonezawa, S., Wells, A. S., & Serna, I. (2002). Choosing Tracks: Freedom of Choice in Detracking Schools. American Educational Research Journal, 39(1), Zimmer, R. (2003). A New Twist in the Educational Tracking Debate. Economics of Education Review, 22(3),

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