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National Research

Leveling UpA substantial body of research demonstrates that lower-track classes are less effective at improving academic outcomes for all students, and that these courses serve to reinforce opportunity gaps. Beginning with the work of Jeannie Oakes (1985), research shows that tracking both reflects and helps to perpetuate classism and racism in schools and society. John Hattie’s meta-analysis of over 300 studies of tracking and its impact on student achievement demonstrates that tracking perpetuates inequality. His analysis, which covers a wide range of school cultures and most curriculum subjects, shows that tracking has minimal effects on learning outcomes and has a profoundly-negative impact on equity (Hattie 2009, 90).

As principal of South Side High School (Rockville Center, NY), Carol Burris worked to level up all classes over time. As a result, a larger percentage of students earned Regents diplomas, regardless of race (Burris 2014, 70). Her analysis demonstrates that tracked or leveled classes perpetuate inequality. In particular, she found that:

  • Low-income and students of color are disproportionately put into low-track classes.
  • Teachers in these classes spend more time on behavior management than on instruction.
  • High-tracked classes have higher student achievement; low-tracked classes have lower student achievement.
  • Students in high-tracked classes do better academically because there is challenging and engaging curriculum and instruction in an academically-focused culture.
  • When classes are detracked, discipline issues decrease and achievement improves.

Sources Cited
Burris, Carol Corbett. On The Same Track: How Schools Can Join the Twenty-First-Century Struggle Against Resegregation. Boston: Beacon Press, 2014.
Hattie, John. Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. London and New York: Routledge, 2009.
Leek, Gideon and Emma Ramsdell, Devonte Richards, Chorobi Sagna & Sarah Whiteman. “Recommendations to Close the Achievement Gap at CRLS.” STARs Peer Leadership and Community Action. Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, Cambridge, MA. 25 January 2015.
Oakes, Jeannie. Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1985.