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Effects of Tracking on Achievement in Mathematics of Middle School Students in Alabama Tynisa Williams Auburn University Montgomery

Effects of Tracking Abstract Achievement in mathematics in middle school directly affects achievement in and beyond high school. Despite attempts to improve mathematics education, dropout rates are increasing, especially in Alabama. The purpose of this study is to examine the effects of tracking of middle school students in Alabama and indicate whether or not the tracking system employed in Alabama schools has had negative effects on mathematics achievement. The methods used in this study will involve using a randomized Solomon four-group design using two experimental groups of 540 students (sixth to eighth graders) participating in a detracking program and two control groups of 540 students (sixth to eighth graders) that will continue in the current educational system. Achievement will be measured by the comparing scores of the two groups on the Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test. This experiment will take place over the course of three years with results analyzed using a chi-square test.

Effects of Tracking Introduction Low student achievement in mathematics has been the topic of many studies and the focus in educational reform for many years. A disproportionately large amount of low- socioeconomic status (SES) students (54 percent according to the Southern Education Foundation Report 2007) make up the student population in Alabama, due to the many rural areas of the state. Many professionals believe that this fact is the reason behind the states poor ranking in

education. According to Lee (2007), schools are required to raise achievement each year in math and reading and to eliminate the achievement gap by race, ethnicity, language, and special education status. Alabama, though starting to improve in reading, is failing in math on all of these levels. There have been numerous attempts to address and correct the problem. Many of these attempts have failed, causing frustration for professionals and families alike. One attempt has been instituted in the majority of classrooms nationally and internationally: tracking. In the vast majority of schools, tracking serves to increase social inequalities in schooling outcomes (Kelly, 2007). Over the years, however, the case has been brought forward that institutionalized tracking not only is not working, but is causing achievement to fall even lower. This trend is particularly evident in students of low-SES. The purpose of this study is to examine the effects of tracking of middle school students in Alabama and indicate whether or not the tracking system employed in Alabama schools has had negative effects on mathematics achievement. The subject was narrowed down to include middle school students because in middle school, mathematics content and the mathematics course sequence become less fluid and less changeable (Akos, Shoffner, & Ellis, 2007). This will increase the validity of the study in terms of curriculum.

Effects of Tracking There have been numerous studies on the tracking system of education. Some have sought to prove that tracking is necessary and others have sought to prove that tracking needs to be removed. The problem in many of these studies was that many know biases were not accounted for, which distorted the information to the researchers needs. This study will seek to

counter these biases, including those of the educators. Many factors must be considered, funding included. However, the need is apparent and studies must continue until an answer is found or else Alabama will continue its decline in the national education rankings.

Statement of the Problem Does the educational tracking systems employed in the state of Alabama have a negative effect on mathematical achievement of middle school students?

Variables The independent variables are the tracked students (control group) and the detracked students (experimental group). The dependent variable is the mathematics achievement, defined by scores on the Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test (ARMT).

Definition of Terms Tracked Students students currently enrolled in Alabama public schools (sixth to eighth grade) Detracked Students students currently enrolled in Alabama public schools (sixth to eighth grade) yet participating in the detracking program

Effects of Tracking Detracking Program methods of tracking students by achievement are removed

Students are placed in accelerated math courses Normally high achieving students are used as tutors for low achieving students Teachers provide various means of instruction Labs and workstations are provided for all students to aid necessary accommodations for academic disparities

After school programs are available for further assistance in the program Parents are included in the process with weekend study groups Mathematics Achievement Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test (ARMT)

Combination of the Stanford 10 and Otis-Lennon School Ability Test currently given to Alabama students.

Scores are does not meet, partially meets, meets, exceeds

Randomized Solomon four-group design an experimental design that involves random assignment of subjects to each of four groups. Two groups are pretested, two are not, one of the pretested groups and one of the unpretested groups receive the experimental treatment, and all four groups are posttested.

Review of Literature Tracking has been the subject of many studies. Many of these studies have been combined with mathematical achievement. Some researchers and professionals feel that the two are positively and directly linked, while others have tried to prove the opposite. So the question becomes, does the educational tracking systems employed in the state of Alabama have a negative effect on mathematical achievement of middle school students? Math achievement

Effects of Tracking remains at a very low levels for the state of Alabama which makes the question one of valued importance. Akos, Shoffner, and Ellis (2007) provided research to show the importance of mathematics while students transition to middle school. This research illustrated a clear connection between mathematics achievement in middle school and success in high school and beyond. Connections were projected between mathematical achievement and self-efficacy. An item of major discussion was the importance of parental connection, and/or disconnection to mathematics and its affect on student progression. The study polled a random group of about 50% of parents of fifth and sixth graders (57% Caucasian, 20% African American, 9% Asian, 8% Hispanic, and approximately 6% multiracial) using open-ended questionnaires. The report revealed that parents had faith in their childrens educators, yet did not know the process of mathematics placement. This study aided in the institution of bias controls on the part of the educator since parents allow tracking to be conducted by the educators.

In another study, educators took the idea of detracking and made it a reality. The program used a group of sixth through twelfth grade students (57.3% Latino, 14.2% African American, 19.7% Asian, 6.3% White, 2.0% Filipino, and 0.5% Pacific Islander) and started them in college prep courses. Alvarez and Mehan (2006) sought to show the connection between detracking and achievement, even in low-SES students. The success rate of the students, measured by attendance in 4-year institutions, was listed as proof of success. Though the measure of success does not connect to the research proposal, the methods used for employing the detracking program will be used. The bias of educators, which can be a threat to the validity of the study, was researched by Biafora and Ansalone (2008). The study involved a sample of 816 principals in New York

Effects of Tracking state schools. The researchers encountered difficulty in the bureaucratic system of the state,

which is another facet to take into account when doing experimental studies. The principals were subjected to a fifty-six item questionnaire on various topics covering education, background, perceptions of tracking on personal success and in the current school system. The results demonstrated a wide variety of races, social status, and high belief that the tracking system has negative effects on the future life chances of some students. The use of the questionnaires (mailing and in person) and the wide coverage of topics will be used as a guide for the experimental design hypothesis. Burris, Heubert, and Levin (2006) performed one of the most thorough and revealing experiments studied in this proposal. The independent and dependent variables were carefully chosen. There were specific measures taken to remove threats to validity, and the timeline of the study lasted six years. Accelerated mathematics achievement was revealed to be the product of heterogeneous grouping. Middle school students from sixth to eighth grades were exposed to heterogeneous grouping, also known as detracking, and placed in accelerated math programs. Students were studied in homogeneous grouping (477) over three years and in the districtsanctioned heterogeneous grouping (508) over the next three years. The study showed that the heterogeneous group of student performed well over the homogeneous group with performance measured by success in high school. The separation of time, however, was not included as a threat of validity. This will be accounted for in the research proposal. Some studies concluded that there is no correlation between tracking and personal beliefs in achievement, as directed by Chiu and others (2008). The researchers used surveys to ask seventh grade students how they perceived themselves in regards to success in mathematics in regards to tracking. This study did not take into affect that many students perceived themselves

Effects of Tracking

as positively as possible because they feel that they cannot attain the level of others. This project left open many biases that will be addressed in the research proposal. Though students may view themselves according to the track they are placed in, the national scores view students on the same level across the board. Biases are a major threat to the validity of a research project. These biases can positively or negatively skew the results of a study. In performing a research project, it is imperative that the threats to validity are examined and addressed. In order to do so, researchers must gather information from previous past projects and make sure that the biases found are removed because proceeding. Kelly (2007) encountered a system of institutionalized racism in the educators and administrators studied. The project, though using a stratified sample of 92 schools, endured a rejection of the possibility of detracking because subjects were not comfortable with change. On the contrary, Lee (2006) endured mixed interpretation to report findings. This problem exposes the need for clarity in reporting when doing research. LeTendre, Hofer, and Shimizu (2003) researched tracking in the US, Germany, and Japan. With a sample size so varied in cultural and educational differences, the results of study can be distorted in many ways. Therefore, sample size needs to be large enough to show a correlation, yet not so large that no inferences can be made. Controls can also be too strict, as demonstrated by the project of Trautwein, Ldtke, Marsh, Kller, and Baumert (2006). The control groups were brought down to an individual basis for student achievement which distorted the results of the study to show that there was no association between track level and student self-concept. Researchers must take care not to take control groups to the lowest level. Community influence is another threat which must be considered when introducing an experiment, as discovered by Welner (2001). The prominent families in the communities

Effects of Tracking researched had a strong say in how changes were made to the school. This hold resulted in a direct opposition to detracking the school system. Administrators, not wanting to upset the

financial supporters of the school system, complied with complaints and deterred any attempts at changing the current system. In order for a research project to progress as intended, allowances must be made for change. If a researcher encounters a community that is opposed to this change, even though it may benefit all students, then another population must be chosen to study. A final consideration is responsibility. When incorporating changes to an educational system, it is up to the educators and professionals to install the methods of change. Yonezawa, Stuart Wells, and Serna (2002) began research on schools that reported that detracking did not work. It was discovered that the issue of detracking was left up to the individual students and parents, not the school educators or administrators. This transfer of responsibility resulted in students remaining where they were. This is a by-product of institutionalized tracking. Students become comfortable with being placed in a situation that is familiar and are resistant to change, especially when that change will place them in an unfamiliar environment. It is up to the proponents of educational change to encourage students to participate in the change in order for true success to be measured. In conclusion, the review of literature has revealed that though the research proposal is possible and measurable, there are many factors to take into consideration. The variables need to be defined and clear. Participation in the experiment must be installed by willing participants. The community must be informed and willing to explore the possibilities of the research. The population needs to be comprised of a proportionate amount of individuals directly related to the community. And finally, the researchers must address and bias or threats to validity before

Effects of Tracking


instituting the changes required for the experiment. The information discovered in the review of literature will be addressed in the methods section of the proposal.

Hypothesis There is no significant difference in the mathematical achievement of tracked students compared to detracked students. Methods

The research project will be of an experimental design. The number of subjects in total will be 2,160 middle school students from sixth grade to eighth grade. The demographics will consist of students age 10-14. The race and gender will match the population, 59% White, 36% Black, 3% Hispanic, and 2% other nationality with 54% male and 46% female. The problem occurs when choosing where to hold the experiment. Alabamas smallest county, Marengo, has 157 middle school students while the largest county, Jefferson, has 19,997. In order to account for the mixture of rural and metropolitan communities, the sample must be pulled from each type. The choice of the researcher is to use two schools that educate a combination of rural and metropolitan students. Montgomery County has 7,627 middle school students hailing from various communities, therefore the sample will be taken from there. The use of the randomized Solomon four-group design is to account for any biases in the detracking program, namely the pretest. Two groups of 540 students each will be pretested where one will be enrolled in the detracking program. Two more groups of 540 students each will not be pretested, yet one will be enrolled in the detracking program and the other will not.

Effects of Tracking Since tracking is the discriminate factor and currently used in the education system in Alabama, a detracking program must be introduced to the experimental group. This detracking program must be instituted by a group of highly skilled and willing educators. If necessary, the teachers will have to go through a training program on how to teach accelerated mathematics. There should be products in place to account for any accommodations or modifications needed by the students. Access to technology is required, so the school will need to ensure that the


computer labs are up to date. All training will need to be approved by the Alabama State Board of Education and follow the similar training discussed by Burris (2006). Parents will be informed of the process and the research group must receive written consent forms (Appendix A) before proceeding with the program. The researchers need to be sure that the parents see the experiment as a positive experience for the student. To best convey the message, a parent-teacher conference should be conducted. If the parent sees that the teacher is in support of the research, they will be more willing to allow their child to participate. The researcher must reinforce the fact that the results of the experiment will not count against the student. The two control groups, one pretested, will continue in the educational system as in the past. The timeline of the study will cover three years. This time will show the progression of the sixth grader into the eighth grade and the eighth grader into high school. The reason for the progression into high school being recorded is due to the findings that mathematical achievement in middle school has a direct affect on achievement and choices in high school. The timeline of the study will also reduce any disturbance of the Hawthorne effect. The attention span of students is very short. The Hawthorne effect make be encountered at the beginning of the study, but as time progresses, it will be forgotten.

Effects of Tracking The step by step procedures for the study will go as follows: 1. Detracking program will be submitted for approval from the board of education 2. A random group of teachers will be selected for the program 3. Teachers will go through a 4-week training process on the program 4. Two schools will be selected to participate in the program matching the required demographics. 5. Parents of the students in the experimental groups will be invited to the school to


meet with the researchers and teachers to go over the program and sign consent forms
6. At the end of the school year before the detracking program is started, the treatment

group and control group will take the ARMT.

7. At the beginning of the school year, the program will be instituted with the pretested

and non-tested experimental groups. 8. The teachers will continue with the accelerated math program as directed with any assistance being provided by the researchers and educators in the field. 9. At the end of the first year, the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders in all groups will take the ARMT. 10. At the end of the second year, the seventh and eighth graders will take the ARMT.
11. At the end of the three years, the remaining eighth graders will take the ARMT. 12. The progression in high school of the previously seventh and eighth graders will be

also be recorded (requires acknowledgement of the high school officials that the students will be involved in a study) 13. The chi-square test will be used to record scores of all students and determine the contingency coefficient. All of the test information will be placed in a crossbreak

Effects of Tracking table to discover whether there is a positive or negative relationship between the detracking program and the mathematical achievement.


In conclusion, this study seems to be of great magnitude, but it can be controlled. The biases of the community will be the largest obstacle, but changes can be made. The information gathered from the study will then determine whether or not the researcher agrees with the null hypothesis and will determine the relationship between the tracking system and the mathematical achievement. The main point of the study is to find a way to improve mathematical achievement of all students, not just high-track students. Hopefully, with proper funding and training, a study of this magnitude can be conducted.

Effects of Tracking References


Akos, P., Shoffner, M., & Ellis, M. (2007). Mathematics placement and the transition to middle school. Professional School Counseling. Retrieved December 5, 2008. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0KOC/is_3_10/ai_n19311518 Alvarez, D., & Mehan, H. (2006). Whole-School Detracking: A Strategy for Equity and Excellence. Theory Into Practice, 45(1), 82-89. Retrieved December 5, 2008, doi:10.1207/s15430421tip4501_11 Biafora, F., & Ansalone, G. (2008). Perceptions and attitudes of school principals towards school tracking: Structural considerations of personal beliefs. Education, 128(4), 588-602. Retrieved December 5, 2008, from Research Library database. (Document ID: 1501399861). Burris, C.C., Heubert, J.P., & Levin, H.M. (2006). Accelerating mathematics achievement using heterogeneous grouping. American Educational Research Journal, 43(1), 105-136. Chiu, D., Beru, Y., Watley, E., Wubu, S., Simson, E., Kessinger, R., et al. (2008). Influences of math tracking on seventh-grade students' self-beliefs and social comparisons. The Journal of Educational Research, 102(2), 125-135,160. doi: 1592652571 Kelly, S. (2007). The contours of tracking in North Carolina. (High school curricula). High School Journal, 90(4), p.15(17). Retrieved December 05, 2008, from http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=EAIM Lee, J. (2006). Tracking achievement gaps and assessing the impact of NCLB on the gaps: An in-depth look into national and state reading and math outcome trends. Cambridge, MA: The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.

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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), 43. doi: 375084461 Trautwein, U., Ldtke, O., Marsh, H. W., Kller, O., & Baumert, J. (2006). Tracking, grading, and student motivation: Using group composition and status to predict self-concept and interest in ninth grade mathematics. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 788806. Welner, K. G. (2001). Legal rights, local wrongs: When community control collides with educational equity. Albany: State University of New York Press. Yonezawa, S., Stuart Wells, A., & Serna, I. (2002). Choosing tracks: "Freedom of choice" in detracking schools. American Educational Research Journal, 39(1), 37. doi: 320163531

Effects of Tracking Appendix A


PARENTAL CONSENT FORM FOR CHILD PARTICIPATION IN EXPERIMENTAL EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH I .................................................................................... being over the age of 18 years hereby consent to my child............................................................................. participating, as requested, in the (school name) research project on math achievement. 1. I have read the information provided. 2. Details of procedures and any risks have been explained to my satisfaction. 3. I am aware that I should retain a copy of the Information Sheet and Consent Form for future reference. 4. I understand that:

My child may not directly benefit from taking part in this research. My child is free to withdraw from the project at any time. While the information gained in this study will be published as explained, my

child will not be identified and individual information will remain confidential. Whether my child participates or not, or withdraws after participating, will have

no effect on any treatment or service that is being provided to him/her. Whether my child participates or not, or withdraws after participating, will have

no effect on his/her progress in his/her course of study, or results gained.

Participants Printed Name ________________________________________

Signature ____________________________________________ Date_____________

Effects of Tracking


I certify that I have explained the study to the volunteer and consider that he/she understands what is involved and freely consents to participation.

Researchers Printed Name ________________________________________

Signature ____________________________________________ Date_____________

I, the participant whose signature appears below, have read a transcript of my participation and agree to its use by the researcher as explained.

Signature ____________________________________________ Date_____________

I, the participant whose signature appears below, have read the researchers report and agree to the publication of my information as reported.

Signature ____________________________________________ Date_____________

Effects of Tracking Appendix B Findings from Research (Akos, 2007) Parental involvement also affects mathematics placement and performance of middle school students. (Alvarez, 2006) selects through a lottery low-income sixth grade students with high potential but underdeveloped skills, and immediately enrolls them in rigorous college- prep classes. This rigorous middle school curriculum in grades 6-8 prepares them for a high school core curriculum that fulfills or exceeds the University of California and California State University entry requirements. students enrolled in higher-level courses perform better than those in low-level courses.


that students must have a variety of supports to meet the challenges of the rigorous curriculum. (Biafora, 2008) teachers, in general, favor tracking as a classroom management strategy and use it as a way to handle challenges occasioned by academic diversity. private schools have more flexibility and that parents may have more of a say in curriculum placement.

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(Burris, 2006) indicate that a traditional low-track, remedial curriculum actually depresses the mathematics performance of American students rather than improving it.

students had the greatest success if they received accelerated instruction in the high-track class accelerated study as an alternative to remediation.

For example, the inclusion of transfer students whose educational histories differ from the majority could bias a studys results. A strategy for dealing with such effects is to include only data for the cohort members who have the most similar histories.

Students who were not continuously enrolled in Grades 612 were excluded to ensure that students in the study had similar mathematical histories. The process of mathematics acceleration begins in the sixth grade in this district. With the exception of the variation introduced by having different teachers, all cohort members in mathematics classes of continuously enrolled students in the same track received similar instruction in a common, school-developed curriculum. In addition, the entrance criteria for advanced mathematics courses were the same for continuously enrolled students.

All members of the final two cohorts, with the exception of developmentally delayed students, were prepared to take the Sequential Mathematics I regents examination. In the first four cohorts, however, not all special education students were prepared to take the exam. This inconsistency

Effects of Tracking had the potential to bias the results, making it appear as though the treatment (universal acceleration) had a more profound effect than it actually had on the taking of advanced


mathematics courses; therefore, only regular education students were included. After application of these criteria, each of the six cohorts ranged between 152 and 181 students. There were 477 pre-universalacceleration participants and 508 post-universal-acceleration participants.

(Chiu, 2008) Students stated that they most frequently compare themselves with other students who perform similarly to them in the same track. Students mentioned that it was simply easier and more practical to compare themselves to students in their classes because comparing across tracks would mean accounting for differences in teachers and material. study also indicated that the students' actual math level or track has no significant effect on their self-esteem. (Davenport, 1993) -- Though not used in references because this was a report on a study, the information contained below was very important in the exclusion of teachers as a threat to validity practice of placing students into different tracks based on ability, achievement, or career expectations. The report identified three areas in which inequities in mathematics instruction were found: (1) access to strong mathematics programs; (2) access to well-qualified mathematics teachers; and (3) access to classroom opportunities.

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high-ability groups at the elementary, middle, or junior and high school levels progress further in the school curriculum over the course of the year than low-ability groups. teachers of high-track students reported spending more time preparing for class, and they appeared to be more enthusiastic and more willing to push their students to stretch academically than teachers of low-track students. Upper-track teachers also expected their students to spend more time on homework than did teachers of low-track students. (Kelly, 2007) even though a high level of selectivity exists without distinctions within math courses, most schools further differentiate individual courses (eg. regular and honors geometry). The result is that students are segregated by ability as well as age. the effects of tracking policies depend on local context. Policies that seem pernicious in the context of this organizational analysis may have educational benefits when viewed from a different theoretical perspective. (Lee, 2006) This report concludes that neither a significant rise in achievement, nor closure of the racial achievement gap is being achieved. (Letendre, 2003) By the middle years, U.S. students may be sorted into ability-based classrooms for certain subjects, most commonly for math classes, and this sorting places constraints on the students' high-school-to-college trajectory.

Effects of Tracking (Trautwein, 2006)


For instance, individual math interest reflects an ongoing, rather stable affinity for math. There is a theoretical distinction between the feeling-related (also called intrinsic value) and the valuerelated (attainment value/commitment-related) components of personal interest.

In our analyses, higher math self-concept in lower track students seems to have been primarily a consequence of differential grading practices (full mediation). Furthermore, math self-concept mediated much of the effects of the other variables on math interest.

(Welner, 2001) Because detracking is fundamentally redistributivethose who seek such reform must challenge traditional ways of thinking.

(Yonezawa, 2002) Fundamental to our analysis of choice as a detracking mechanism is a reconceptualization of tracks as political spaces, places where people fashion their identity and social relations. resisted entering high-track classes because the relationship between their places in the tracking hierarchy and their evolving identities and ideologies shaped the way such options were presented to and perceived by them. track structures extremely difficult to dismantle for various social, political, and cultural reasons.

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placed the onus of the reform on students to take high-track courses rather than on educators to dismantle track structures and address cultural norms. It failed because it left intact the schools' tracked structures, or the spaces that students occupied, and the identities and social relations that students formed in response to track placements.