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Tracking (education)

Tracking is separating pupils by academic ability into groups for all subjects or certain classes and curriculum within a school. It may be referred to as streaming or phasing in certain schools. In a tracking system, the entire school population is assigned to classes according to whether the students' overall achievement is above average, normal, or below average. Students attend academic classes only with students whose overall academic achievement is the same as their own.

Ability grouping is not synonymous with tracking. Tracking differs from ability grouping by scale and permanence. Ability groups are small, informal groups formed within a single classroom. Assignment to an ability group is often short-term (never lasting longer than one school year), and varies by subject. Assignment to an ability group is made by (and can be changed at any time by) the individual teacher, and is usually not recorded in student records. For example, a teacher may divide a typical mixed-ability classroom into three groups for a mathematics lesson: those who need to review basic facts before proceeding, those who are ready to learn new material, and those who need a challenging assignment. For the next lesson, the teacher may revert to whole-class, mixed-ability instruction, or may assign students to different groups.

Tracking was once popular in English-speaking countries, but is less used now. Tracking systems formed the basis of the Tripartite System in England and Wales until the 1970s, and in Northern Ireland until 2009. Germany uses a tracked system. In Germany, students' achievements in their last of generally four years of primary school determine the type of secondary school they will be permitted to attend, and therefore the type of education they will receive. A tracking system has been in place since the advent of modern education in the Netherlands. After it was relaxed in the 70s and 80s, the tracking system has been gaining substantial strength again since the late 1990s. Weak tracking systems have been used in American schools. In this approach, local schools assign students to classrooms according to their overall achievement, so that a given classroom is primarily composed of students with either high, average, or low academic achievement.

Tracking and its various modifications is among the predominant organizing practices of American public schools, and has been an accepted feature in the country's schools for nearly a century. Coming into use at a time when schools were enrolling growing numbers of immigrant children as the result of compulsory schooling laws, tracking was adopted as a means of sorting those children viewed as having limited preparation or capacity for schooling from native children. Unfortunately, however, tracking quickly took on the appearance of internal segregation.



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