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Educational Systems

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In a quest to find more effective ways to improve the educational system, educators frequently question current instructional practices. One of the more controversial practices concerns tracking, or ability grouping. There is an on-going debate as to whether or not "the practice of placing students into different courses or course sequences based on their perceived skill level" (Gahala, 2001, para. 1). Tracking is quite common among the nation's middle and high schools, especially in math, English, and science classes, where students find themselves sorted into a variety of ability levels Ð'- honors, AP, regular, special education. Many school personnel and parents praise the use of tracking, but countless others condemn it.

The theory behind tracking, which is the norm throughout the educational system in Germany, is sound. Grouping students according to their skill levels definitely has the potential of improving their achievement because attention is paid to their individual needs. In a tracking environment, "students learn at a comfortable pace Ð'- neither held back by students who are working at a slower pace nor pushed ahead by students whose skills are advanced" Gahala, 2001, para. 5). The use of tracking within a school also helps teachers because it is easier to plan for students of similar ability, and, according to Gahala (2001), "they can tailor the instruction to the progress of the class as a whole" (para. 5).

In spite of its theoretical soundness, a growing number of parents and educators denounce the practice of tracking. The main argument against tracking is that the labels given to students in their early years are permanent and often damaging (Wheelock, 1992). Opponents of tracking further claim that a disproportionate number of minorities are placed in lower groups, resulting in them receiving an inferior education. In fact, according to Mallery & Mallery (1999), "as ability grouping is practiced today, white and Asian students are vastly over-represented in the high groupings, while African-American and Latino students are similarly over-represented in the low rankings (p. 14). Moreover, all students who are "stuck" in the lower tracks are "shortchanged educationallyÐ'... they are not exposed to specific curricula and higher-level thinking skills that are essential for success in college

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