Friday, June 13, 2008

On the "Evils" of Tracking

This is a great, great article, from the Los Angeles Times:

As early as fourth grade, students who will be at risk of failing the high school exit exam -- a state requirement to earn a diploma -- can be identified based on grades, classroom behavior and test scores, according to a new study released Tuesday.

The findings, based on an extensive study of student achievement in San Diego schools, call into question the effectiveness of aiming significant efforts and tens of millions of dollars at struggling high school seniors and older students to help them pass the exam.

"From a political standpoint, such spending seems necessary. However, our results strongly suggest that these 11th-hour interventions by themselves are unlikely to yield the intended results," according to the report by the Public Policy Institute of California.
There was a different report I read once--if I can find a reference, I'll post it later--that said that if a student was struggling in reading at the end of 1st grade, there was a very good chance they were also going to be struggling readers at the end of 3rd grade.

And this is why assessment matters, and this is why I'm entirely comfortable with having systems like the MAP and the WASL in place that allow you to see how a kid is evolving over the course of their career. Being able to print off a grade-level report and see the names of the 15 neediest kids in a certain grade is a benefit, because that gives me great guidance on how to direct my interventions.

Now I know that there's someone out there thinking tracking, and that's an important piece as well. The thing with an idea like tracking is that I think many are still in a frame of mind that it doesn't mean change--that once you're in the low "yellow bird" group, that's where you stay forever. That's not the way it has to be! With frequent assessment and flexible grouping and targeted interventions (think RTI), the classroom should be fluid and kids should be where they need to be getting the instruction that they need to get.

If I could change one thing in all the teachers in the land at the same time, it would be to get them to welcome and embrace data. Data-based decision making should be the rule, not the exception. It's a tool for the reflective teacher, and the more we use it the better off the system will be.


Blogger The Science Goddess said...

The district I work for in the afternoons is a real data hound kind of place. It's been really refreshing to see data thoughtfully used.

7:41 PM  

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