Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Teaching the Lower Track

For years our school has split our curriculum into three different tracks. We've called these tracks by various names and have adjusted the terminology from time to time. Currently we have three tracks: modified, regular, and honors. Students are placed into these tracks through scores on the placement / entrance exam. As of late I've begun to worry about the students in the low track.

Does tracking beyond honors and regular actually increase student learning? I see two sides to the situation. We are about to embark on a massive curriculum revamp as part of a switch to a trimester and 1:1 computing model. The debate around modified courses is about to began.

To give the context we track in four areas: math, science, social studies, and english. On one hand the observation is made that our staff at the modified level is not specifically trained to teach with different methods for students of lower academic ability. In a school of 850 each class has about 20 students tracked into the modified lane. A large percentage of these students have IEPs for various reasons but many do not. These students spend the entire day together moving from class to class with the exception of a few electives. Concern has been raised that by grouping our lower scoring students together for four years they continually reinforce to each other low expectations. Some argue that if we placed these students into regular classes they could manage to make it through if teachers were willing to differentiate their instruction to address the learning needs of these students. This group believes students would be better served by being placed in the regular lane.

On the other hand a number of our staff are opposed to eliminating the modified track with the concern that by placing these students into the regular lain the curriculum would be watered down. That teachers would be forced to teach to the needs of the lowest students. This group believes adamantly that eliminating tracking at this level would have a profound negative impact on the school as a whole.

My personal feelings are mixed. I'm curious as to our students thoughts. As soon as school kicks back up in the fall I plan to collect some student opinions on the matter. I can see some merit to the views of both camps. I'm curious as to how other Catholic high schools address these issue. Perhaps we are in the minority by tracking perhaps were not. Maybe it would be better to place these students in regular classes but assign them to a special study hall and delay the foreign language elective for a couple of years. I'm sure a number of schools have addressed these issues and have come up with a solution.

Some make the argument that Freshmen and Sophomore year should be untracked and admittance to the AP / Honors lane be determined only by academic performance during the Freshmen and Sophomore year.

Please take the survey link here and share your practices and ideas. Link Here

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

My hope, as a Headmaster at one Catholic school and a proponent of Catholic education in general, is that Catholic educators and those believing in our purpose and role in the marketplace would closely examine the landscape, reject nostalgia and conventional models Catholic schools have assumed, and seek to be leaders in all pedagogical frames. We needn't be one thing or another, can do many things well, from the most cognitively demanding teaching/learning to what's uncomfortably labeled "lower track" students, and everything in between. There is and will be a thirst for the intersection of academic rigor and spiritual depth in our Catholic tradition, which students and families of all faith traditions seek, as long as we make our case for both. That will require, more than simply new grouping strategies, new beliefs and practices about what constitutes 21st century teaching/learning, and how inclusive we are willing to be in that enterprise. Lastly, Catholic schools should leverage what they can/aspire to do great, which in some cases may be grouping for basic skills, grouping for accelerated learning, and not grouping for the virtues of a heterogeneous learning environment. We can be as independent and innovative and our imaginations allow. Jerry Jellig The Summit Country Day School

doyle said...

Dear Charlie,

I've taught the "modified" freshmen track by choice for the past 3 years. (You know it's the modified track because the name is changed annually).

The problem (perhaps amplified in public schools) is that the modified track blends children with less ability with those with motivational issues, language issues, behavioral issues, hunger issues, and other issues that impede a child's progress in more rigorous courses.

Ideally most children would be in small classes with others with similar needs, though this may be a recipe for disaster for the emotionally disturbed kids.

The problem is that there's a perception (an earned one at times) that the modified track is not adequately challenged--we "dumb down" the material. There's the added problem that these classes are seen by many (both faculty and students) as students to be avoided--classroom management can be tricky.

If you can truly practice differentiated instruction in a mixed classroom (with requisite small class size and in-class support), then that may be the way to go.

I don't have a solution, but I will say this--some of my best moments occurred in the modified classroom, and certainly my biggest rewards. A lot of my students were bright, if not good students.

Again, it gets to the heart of the question--what are we doing in education, and why?

If its to meet mythical international standards on standardized tests, well, by gum, lump them all together.

Charlie Roy said...

@ Jerry
Thank you for the comment. Do you ever wonder how easy our jobs as school administrators would be if we truly dedicated our lives to just maintaining the status quo? I'm glad to hear your call to reject nostalgia and embrace 21st century learning.

@ Michael
Thanks for commenting. I think we share the same philosophy that education is much more about standardized test scores. I'm very interested in having a chance to have the discussion with my senior and junior students this fall who have been in our modified lane. I love your observation on how you can tell the track is modified because the label changes every few years. In our own history it has been basic, challenged, and modified.

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guloninae said...

Hey Charlie,

Oddly enough, my name is also Charlie Roy. A friend pointed out your blog for just that reason, however, in reading this entry I've found that I have something to contribute.

If you've never heard of "On Course" by Skip Downing, I highly suggest that you look into it.

On Course is a course for educators hoping to empower their students to become active, responsible learners and is taught in several workshops over the year in the US.

I am from Canada and just this weekend, travelled to Baltimore, MD to attend my first workshop.

Many colleges and universities teach the On Course principles to their probationary students (often through Success classes that are mandatory for these students), but present at the conference are also educators in the areas of math, science, English, etc who want to share these concepts with their students, regardless of their academic standing.

The website for On Course is here: http://www.oncourseworkshop.com/

The course is by no means only suitable for post-secondary educators, it is accessible to teachers and students at the high school level as well and even to employers wishing to empower their employees.

Grouping students with IEPs is no longer a 'hindrance' when teaching these concepts, because they form a stronger bond with each other and help each other succeed rather than the opposite.

Good luck!
Ms. Charlie Roy

Charlie Roy said...

@ Ms. Charlie Roy
Nice to meet someone with same name. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I plan to check out the links you recommend. I hope you enjoyed your time in the states. be well!

Anonymous said...

>>Some argue that if we placed these students into regular classes they could manage to make it through if teachers were willing to differentiate their instruction to address the learning needs of these students. This group believes students would be better served by being placed in the regular lane.>>

My high school was like this in their zeal to "mainstream" kids who simply couldn't keep up.

>>On the other hand a number of our staff are opposed to eliminating the modified track with the concern that by placing these students into the regular lain the curriculum would be watered down. That teachers would be forced to teach to the needs of the lowest students. This group believes adamantly that eliminating tracking at this level would have a profound negative impact on the school as a whole.>>

The way my high school handled it was that the non-remedial kids became the teachers/coaches/whipping boys for the remedial kids. Not only were we wholly responsible for teaching ourselves (because the teachers had no time, since all their time was taken up trying to manage the students who couldn't possibly keep up and most of whom were not even interested in learning), but also responsible for maintaining order and trying to teach our "buddies", who resented us for being non-remedial and made our lives hell.

Nobody wins when remedial kids are put into normal classrooms.