Tracking Students in Public Education and Common Core Standards

Below are my remarks regarding the tracking of student in public education to another poster on the thread entitled, “Running for cover on Common Core. Everybody’s Talking.  Anybody Actually Listening?” on the “Get Schooled” blog of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on August 15, 2014:  (Link:


Other poster: I take it that you’re in favor of tracking by learning ability? What do you do if the students sort themselves into racial or ethnic groups, accept de facto segregation?”

Mary Elizabeth: You assume wrong. I am not in favor of tracking by learning ability. There are many options beyond simple tracking of students like herds of sheep into broad generalities of delivering instruction. That is why I always write in terms of adjusting to individual instructional needs wherever students are placed. Not to address individual instructional variances among students’ academic needs is to create a systemwide failure for students. The delivery of precise educational mastery for every student is a more complex process (with more options for that delivery) than you are presently perceiving, imo.


Other poster: A failure to track is not good for the capable students; they’re simply bored while the teacher addresses the needs of the less capable and the incapable, and deals with the discipline problems.

MaryElizabethSings's avatar

I am simply trying to communicate that the term “tracking,” itself, and what that term connotes in instruction is too broad a way of visualizing instructional delivery in the nitty-gritty variations of instructional needs of hundreds and even thousands of students in one school setting, based on my experiences in education. Students in general, imo, should not be “forever” set into one so-called “track” because students will individually vary from year to year according to their spurts of academic growth, just as they, individually, will vary in their spurts of physical growth, according to the years and times those spurts will occur naturally.

A student who is not ready to absorb, or master, the concepts in Algebra I should not be placed in Algebra I, whatever his grade level That student may need pre-Algebra before taking Algebra I, even if the majority of his classmates are going into Algebra I, in order for him to meet success with Algebra I at a later time. That same student, however, may be functioning in English courses above those of his classmates. In that case, he should take an AP English course and a pre-Algebra math course at that given point in time. I do not believe that all students should be assigned to tracking set in stone, such as a generalized “lower track” for all courses for one student, or a generalized “higher track” for all courses for another student, for years on end even though that might be easy to manage logistically. That type of generalized “tracking” would damage students in more ways that I can elaborate here.

When I was ILT at the multi-aged, continuous progress school, grades 1 – 7, the principal, myself, and the team leaders of the 4 instructional pod, of 5 classes each, attended school meetings for a week or two before pre-planning actually began, officially, for all of the school’s teachers so that we could analyze correctly the various instructional permutations and assignments needed for every single student (based on his or her levels of completion in math and reading the previous year, as well as on his/her standardized test scores (and sometimes IQ scores).

In my opinion, more time by teachers and administrators needs to be spent on analysis and diagnosis of where individual students should be placed in all curriculum courses, at point in time. Concentrated instructional awareness of where each student would function best for his or her optimal growth should be afforded every student individually. Thereafter, instructional switches should be made, for students, during the year, in particular course, as needed. Knowing when those switches in instructional placement were necessary, at point in time, for every student in the school was my primary job responsibility as an Instructional Lead Teacher.


Other poster: MES, if you taught in South DeKalb was it in in a segregated school?————————————————————–

Mary Elizabeth: I taught in South DeKalb County from 1971 – 2000.

The South DeKalb County school in which I functioned as an ILT, which I mentioned in my 5:30 p.m. post, had essentially a white student body and staff in the years in which I taught there, from 1975 – 1984. When I transferred to a high school in South DeKalb in 1984, which was in close proximity to the elementary/middle school where I had been the ILT, that high school was approximately equally white and black in student population, as well as in the teaching staff. During the period that I was in that high school, from 1984 until I retired in 2000, that school transitioned from being half white and black in student population to being essentially all black in student population because of white flight in the neighborhood. The high school was essentially all black, from 1989 – 2000, in student population, but the teaching staff remained white half and black half for all 16 years in which I taught there. (Of course, in both schools, there was a sprinkling of Asian, Hispanic, and other student nationalities, even in those days.)

The only officially segregated school I ever taught within was in an all-black elementary school after I had graduated from college in NYC and headed back to my roots in South Georgia in January of 1970. I was the only white person in the school. I taught 3rd graders out of grade level license, for that 1/2 year. The next year, 1970 -1971, the schools in Lowndes County (Valdosta, GA) were all integrated so that I taught both black and white students in Junior High School during that year in Lowndes County before I came to South DeKalb. After I retired, I worked as a substitute teacher in ten different middle and high schools in North Fulton County. The students in those schools were from multi-racial and multi-ethnical backgrounds from all areas of the world from 2001 – 2006.

I must say that I always saw every student I ever taught – from 1st through 12th grades, in various parts of this state and over various parts of the metro Atlanta area, as well as over decades (many of which involved dramatic social change) – as unique children and young people. I cared for all of my students very much, and I learned from all of them. I know that I was born to teach. I loved every day that I was blessed to have been a teacher to our young people in Georgia.


On the same thread of the “Get Schooled” blog, I had posted the following comments regarding nationalized Common Core Standards for all public schools, on August 15, 2014:

Common Core standards should be consistent across the nation. However, individual students’ variant instructional levels must be allowed to exist within this standardized core of skills/concepts to be taught across the nation. And, the rate at which individual students can master these skills/concepts must also be given flexibility to adjust to individual differences.

Adjusting to individual differences within Common Core standards will take care of the differences in the overall educational development of the majority of students in Massachusetts and Georgia. Some students in Georgia are much more academically developed than some students in Massachusetts, and some in Massachusetts are behind some students in Georgia. The key is being allowed the flexibility within Common Core to allow skills/concepts on a curriculum continuum 1 -12 to be taught according to correct individual instructional placement and correct rate at which individual students can absorb those skills, across the nation – although the CC standards can be set for the majority of students across the nation for consistency. All of this can be accomplished as well as the variations and permutations that will invariably be needed in any excellent classroom.

We must never forget that all students do not have the same IQ levels and that means that invariably students will master skills/concepts on a curriculum continuum at differing rates. We must, as educators, make these individual adjustments in order to see the success of every student, at every point in time, become a reality of the future in public education.

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