Academic Tracking: Does it Help?

Written by Erika Renkl and Sarah Dahlberg |

Academic tracking has been a feature at The Morgan School for years. The school levels mathematics, English and foreign language classes available to students. Students whether to take college prep or honors, which involves a more challenging curriculum. The alternative to  tracking is streamlined education where students get the same opportunities regardless of how they performed when they were put on a “track”.

The students seem to like the idea of academic tracking because it challenges some students who need it but also allows kids who aren’t up for the challenge to succeed. Junior, Erin Barnett, agrees that academic tracking increases productivity. “My social studies class, which is mixed, isn’t as productive because we have people from the top end of the class as well as those who would normally be in career and everyone in between.” She takes honors math and science classes and sees a large gap between the challenges in each. Kaitlyn Conway, senior, agrees. “It’s good that we have the levels, but I think we should keep the history classes mixed.” A lot of students take honors classes in subjects they find they are strong in and take college prep classes if they don’t feel that they can handle the challenges provided by the accelerated honors program.

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Junior Erin Barnett

“They can’t do that because that’s not going to work,” said senior Maddi Roman when we asked what she thought about streamlining mathematics and English. “Those classes need students who care the same amount to be together so they can collaborate equally and at the same level.” Senior, Liz Bradley, thought that academic tracking was a good system overall. “In academic tracking students won’t feel slowed down or rushed with the work load, and those who want to be challenged can be. I liked having the options for social studies my freshman year” (Until 2011, students had the choice to take honors world history or college prep civics their freshman year).

The teachers have similar views about tracking, and many couldn’t decide what they preferred. Mr. Luther, head of the science department, said, “Honors allows you to teach at a faster pace and challenge the students that would benefit from being challenged in the classroom. However, motivation can happen when some students are surrounded by others at a higher level.” He also noted that sometimes tracking can make students feel as if they’re being labeled as an honors student or a college prep student. Other teachers agreed, saying that the more motivated students will help those who aren’t as motivated, but unfortunately teachers have to teach to the middle, holding the smarter students back from the challenges available and sometimes leaving those unmotivated students in the dust.

Ms. Rizzo, a history teacher,has experienced both traditional tracking and streamlined education. The social studies department currently has honors classes and streamlined college prep and career students in the same class. “Tracking helps more because students who need more help are usually in smaller classes. This allows for more one on one time with the teacher, making it easier for the teacher to meet the students’ specific needs,” said Ms. Rizzo when asked if tracking benefits the students more than streamlined education. The department uses the same curriculum for honors and college prep classes anyway, the only difference being the speed and the assessments. The streamlined system keeps the curriculum the same as it used to be, but it makes it harder to accurately assess the students who are so ahead of the learning curve, as well as keep the students who lack an honors-level work ethic on a successful track. “You have to teach to the middle, and it makes it more difficult to keep up with the individual students’ needs and lesson plans.” She did say that there is sometimes slightly better behavior in the streamlined classes, but there is no extra motivation from the higher level kids. “It just hurts everyone.”

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In previous PawPrint articles, reporters examined the decision students have to make between honors and college prep courses. In 2012 Maria Putnam wrote an article called Honors vs. College Prep where she interviews former students Katie Elliot and Emma about their journey with honors classes and college prep classes. PaulMichael Mullally followed up on Maria’s post by writing an article about how to decide what path to take and what the benefits are to taking honors classes or college prep classes.