The Review of Educational Research recently published a meta-analysis to evaluate the effects of school tracking on student achievement and inequalities. School tracking is the practice of assigning students based on their abilities and interests to different types of education, such as type of school or curricula. Within-school tracking consists of grouping students in different classrooms (e.g., ability grouping). Between-school tracking assigns students to different types of schools (e.g., vocational, academic), where the subjects taught are different and specific.
The authors evaluated the effects of the two types of school tracking on student academic achievement – considering that a measure of efficiency of an educational system – as well as on inequalities, measured in two ways: dispersion of student performance, meaning the gap between high and low performers; and the interaction between social-economic background and student achievement. A positive interaction means that socio-economic background has a larger effect in tracked than in untracked systems.
A total of 53 publications were included in the review.
- Overall, results showed non-significant effects for the educational efficiency of tracking (ES = -0.06), meaning that student academic achievement is not greater in tracked systems.
- Regarding inequality, results showed a significant positive effect (ES = +0.11), suggesting that tracking increases the level of inequality.
- Furthermore, between-school tracking increases efficiency (academic achievement) compared to within-school tracking, as well as reduces the level of inequality (relative to within-school tracking).
The authors explain that a possible reason is that students assigned to less-advanced groups still share the same school environment of the more advanced classes, exacerbating inequalities in academic achievement.
Source: Terrin, É., & Triventi, M. (2022). The Effect of School Tracking on Student Achievement and Inequality: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, 00346543221100850. https://doi.org/10.3102/00346543221100850