The pros and cons of academic tracking

Some students learn better in a classroom or training course by working independently, while others require individualized attention. This is just one of the many differences between students. Because students’ needs vary widely, many schools find it helpful to implement academic tracking systems.

Academic tracking is an educational system that monitors student progress and divides students into classes based on their abilities. The aim is to ensure each student is on the best learning path for their particular needs and situation. This tracking is sometimes referred to as phasing, streaming, or ability grouping.

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In this post, we’ll help you decide whether this approach is a good option for your students by considering the pros and cons.

Pros of academic tracking

Academic tracking separates students into three “tracks” based on academic ability: high, average, and low. The system examines student performance at a granular level using test results from specific classes and subjects.

Academic tracking presents several key benefits for education.

1. It creates individualized learning paths

Every student learns in slightly different ways. Academic tracking presents a curriculum for each student that aligns with their specific abilities. With this setup, academic tracking facilitates personalized learning that’s akin to one-on-one instruction. Ultimately, this streamlined learning path ensures each student gets the attention and support they need, enabling them to reach their full potential.

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2. It prevents apathy

Some high-performing, academically oriented students become bored or disinterested if the curriculum is too easy or slow due to a “one size fits all” model. Because academic tracking groups students with similar abilities, there is less chance of advanced students being stifled or held back for the sake of the entire class.

3. It encourages creative instruction

When teachers can use their creativity to craft unique lessons and specialized curricula for each student, they’re able to increase engagement and performance in their classrooms. Also, the creative freedom to get imaginative with lessons benefits teachers and increases their job satisfaction and motivation.

4. It promotes healthy competition between students

Academic tracking offers choices and healthy competition for students. Those who might fall further behind in other systems may feel motivated to keep up with their peers. In doing so, they will get more out of their education and be better prepared for their future careers and other endeavors.

Cons of academic tracking

Academic tracking may provide some great benefits, but no system is perfect. Here are three downsides that you should consider before implementing such a system in your learning environment.

1. It’s subject to stereotyping

Students tend to perform to the level their teachers expect, no matter whether those expectations are high or low. This can be problematic, because some teachers may set lower performance expectations for students from historically marginalized groups. As such, these students may miss out on opportunities for growth.

2. It can lead to unequal education

Underperforming students may be at a disadvantage with academic tracking, as their low performance may result in fewer opportunities to express their intellect, creativity, or unique skills. For example, they may be less likely to be selected for extracurricular events, such as the school quiz team or an art expo. In the long term, this lack of individual expression could put them at a disadvantage in their careers.

3. It can have a negative impact on confidence

High self-esteem is crucial to emotional health and positive behavioral choices, particularly during a student’s formative years. Knowing that you’re at the lower end of the academic performance spectrum compared to your peers can cause a dip in self-confidence, and that can show up both inside and outside of the classroom.

What’s more, students in the lower track may feel discouraged from speaking with counselors and teachers about their struggles. Ultimately, this cycle can cause students to drop out of higher education.

Find a balanced system that supports all students

Academic tracking is an educational system that can provide many benefits to high-performing students by allowing them to maximize their potential from a young age. On the other hand, when executed poorly, it can have adverse effects on lower-performing students, who may form negative self-beliefs due to their unfavorable academic standing. As an educator, you must weigh these pros and cons to create the best learning environment for all students. One helpful tool you can use to gather information about your students is the student data tracking sheet from Jotform. With the detailed data you collect, you can make informed decisions to create an educational model that will benefit everyone.

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