Background/Context: School tracking practices have been documented repeatedly as having negative effects on students’ identity development and attainment, particularly for those students placed in lower tracks. Despite this documentation, tracking persists as a normative practice in American high schools, perhaps in part because we have few models of how departments and teachers can successfully organize instruction in heterogeneous, high school mathematics classes. This paper offers one such model through a qualitative and quantitative analysis.
Focus of Study: In an effort to better the field’s understanding of equitable and successful teaching, we conducted a longitudinal study of three high schools. At one school, Railside, students demonstrated greater gains in achievement than students at the other two schools and higher overall achievement on a number of measures. Furthermore, achievement gaps among various ethnic groups at Railside that were present on incoming assessments disappeared in nearly all cases by the end of the second year. This paper provides an analysis of Railside’s success and identifies factors that contributed to this success.
Participants: Participants included approximately 700 students as they progressed through three California high schools. Railside was an urban high school with an ethnically, linguistically, and economically diverse student body. Greendale was situated in a coastal community with a more homogeneous, primarily White student body. Hilltop was a rural high school with primarily White and Latino/a students.
Research Design: This longitudinal, multiple case study employed mixed methods. Three schools were chosen to offer a range of curricular programs and varied student populations. Student achievement and attitudinal data were evaluated using statistical techniques, whereas teacher and student practices were documented using qualitative analytic techniques such as coding.
Findings/Results: One of the findings of the study was the success of Railside school, where the mathematics department taught heterogeneous classes using a reform-oriented approach. Compared with the other two schools in the study, Railside students learned more, enjoyed mathematics more and progressed to higher mathematics levels. This paper presents large-scale evidence of these important achievements and provides detailed analyses of the ways that the Railside teachers brought them about, with a focus on the teaching and learning interactions within the classrooms.