Hope Reed, a math teacher at Blythewood High School, conducted an interesting experiment to help students struggling in math.
According to a new article by the Associated Press, the Columbia, South Carolina-based educator used a method called “detracking” to help a 9th-grade remedial class understand Algebra 1.
Detracking is the process of placing students with mixed abilities in the same class, with the hope of exposing all students to the same curriculum. It is the opposite of tracking, a process where students are grouped or separated into different classes based on their academic abilities, achievement levels or other characteristics.
During her experiment — which was conducted in 2014 — Reed used the regular Algebra 1 curriculum with a group of 50 students to see if they could soak up the tough material. The remedial course was conducted with a freshman class entirely comprised of students of color. At the time, half of Blythewood’s student body was white.
At the end of the year, Hope Reed discovered something fascinating about her experiment. Around 90% of the students in the detracked class passed the course. The trial served as evidence that detracking could be used as a tool to help close educational gaps in math at Blythewood.
To test if the theory was true, Reed expanded detracking across all ninth-grade math classes in 2014.
“An additional class was also added for students who would have been placed in lower-level math classes,” the Associated Press noted.
Students placed in lower-level courses were enrolled in morning algebra lessons and were required to take Algebra 1 with their full class in the afternoon to help reinforce the curriculum. It was also structured intentionally to maintain the “pace of learning” for students who were in “higher-level” classes.
Hope Reed said that she saw a “boost” in confidence among Blythewood students who were struggling with the material.
“They didn’t go in there just blindsided, lost,” she said.
Kianna Livingston, a Black 9th-grade student at Blythewood during the 2014-2015 semester, said she saw a drastic difference in her math comprehension level after detracking was implemented.
“It really allowed me to really own my leadership skills.”
The primary goal of tracking is to provide tailored instruction to students of varying abilities, enabling them to learn at a pace that suits their individual needs, but tracking can hinder learning outcomes for students of color.
A 2013 report by the National Education Policy Center Research argued that tracking can be harmful to Black and Latino students in lower-track levels, who may not have the financial resources to receive tutoring or extra help outside of the classroom.
Students in lower-track levels may experience stigmatization, which can affect their self-esteem and motivation. Teachers may have lower expectations for students in lower tracks, which can lead to further underachievement. Social interaction is vital for learning. Limiting that crucial aspect of education could potentially hinder the development of important social skills needed for students to comprehend.
Reed’s experiment had a few flaws.
A few students still found it difficult to process the material even with additional support from the math seminar. Students who were at risk of failing were eventually placed back into a slower course.
Still, Reed is optimistic about the power of detracking.
The decorated teacher claimed that the school’s end-of-course passing rate has “never been as high as it was” during the 2014-2015 semester.
“The average score for Black students on the exam was 80, up two points from the year prior. The average for white students was 83, an increase by less than one point from the year prior,” according to the Associated Press.
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