Tracking, or placing students into different classes or strands (i.e., college prep, vocational, remedial, gifted) is not an effective strategy for enhancing student performance. When studied, tracking was actually found to increase the gap between high and low achievers by lowering the achievement of low-track students and boost the achievement of high-track students (Gamoran, 1987; Kerckhoff, 1986). Gamoran (1987) also found that the gap of achievement between low- and high-track students is greater than the gap between students who drop out of school and those students who graduate. According to Oakes (1990), low-income students and minority students are overrepresented in the lower tracks, and therefore, have suffered the most from tracking.
There is also the problem of a self-fulfilling prophecy: if teachers know that their students are labeled lower level, they will treat them this way and are less likely to provide challenging materials, ask probing questions, and encourage responses in the classroom.
On a personal level, there was a form of tracking in my own high school. I found the system to be extremely ineffective. Every year, you had to have your teacher recommend you to stay in that track (it was either honors, regular, or low). The low-level students barely tried to do anything in class since they were already thought of as “low”: why would they even try? (I actually heard students say this before.) Also, the teacher recommendation system was flawed. There were no multiple levels of evaluation for which track you should be placed; there was only your teacher’s evaluation form and your grades in their class, in case the parents complained. Also, rarely would you hear about anyone switching tracks, which meant the low-level students were not advancing. Overall, I found the tracking system to be extremely ineffective.
Gamoran, A. (1987). The stratification of high school learning opportunities. Sociology of Education, 60, 135-155.
Kerckhoff, A.C. (1986). Effects of ability grouping in British secondary schools. American Sociological Review, 51, 842-858.