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Accountability, Rigor, and Detracking: Achievement Effects of Embracing a Challenging Curriculum As a Universal Good for All Students


by Carol Corbet Burris, Ed Wiley, Kevin G. Welner & John Murphy — 2008

Background: This longitudinal study examines the long-term effects on the achievement of students at a diverse suburban high school after all students were given accelerated mathematics in a detracked middle school as well as ninth-grade ‘high-track’ curriculum in all subjects in heterogeneously grouped classes. Despite considerable research indicating the ineffectiveness and inequities of ability grouping, the practice is still found in most American high schools. Research indicates that high-track classes bring students an academic benefit while low-track classes are associated with lower subsequent achievement. Corresponding research demonstrates that tracks stratify students by race and class, with African American, Latino and students from low-socioeconomic households being dramatically over-represented in low-track classes and under-represented in high-track classes.

Purpose: In light of increasing pressure to hold all students to high learning standards, educators and researchers are examining policy decisions, such as tracking, in order to determine their relationship to student achievement.

Design: This study used a quasi-experimental cohort design to compare pre- and post-reform success in the earning of the New York State Regents diploma and the diploma of the International Baccalaureate.

Data Analysis: Using binary logistic regression analysis, the authors found that there was a statistically significant post-reform increase in the probability of students earning these standards-based diplomas. Being a member of a detracked cohort was associated with an increase of roughly 70% in the odds of IB diploma attainment and a much greater increase in the odds of Regents diploma attainment – ranging from a three-fold increase for White or Asian students, to a five-fold increase for African American or Latino students who were eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunch, to a 26-fold increase for African American or Latino students not eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Further, even as the enrollment in International Baccalaureate classes increased, average scores remained high.

Conclusion: The authors conclude that if a detracking reform includes high expectations for all students, sufficient resources and a commitment to the belief that students can achieve when they have access to enriched curriculum, it can be an effective strategy to help students reach high learning standards.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 110 Number 3, 2008, p. 571-607
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14614, Date Accessed: 6/27/2017 1:22:07 AM

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About the Author
  • Carol Burris
    South Side High School
    E-mail Author
    CAROL CORBETT BURRIS is the principal of South Side High School, a diverse suburban high school located on Long Island, approximately 25 miles from New York City. Dr. Burris’ research interests are detracking and educational equity. Recent publications include: Accelerating Mathematics Achievement Using Heterogeneous Grouping which she co-authored with Jay P. Heubert and Henry M. Levin (American Educational Research Journal Spring, 2006, volume 43, no. 1) and Closing the Achievement Gap by Detracking, which she co-authored with Kevin G. Welner (Phi Delta Kappan, April, 2005).
  • Ed Wiley
    University of Colorado at Boulder
    ED WILEY is Chair of the Research and Evaluation Methodology Program at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he also serves as assistant professor of quantitative methods in educational policy. His policy interests include school accountability and teacher quality and compensation; his methodological research focuses on nonparametric and computational statistics. He has recently completed a practitioner's guide to value-added assessment and is currently leading a study of Denver Public School's "ProComp" (Professional Compensation System for Teachers) reform.
  • Kevin Welner
    University of Colorado
    E-mail Author
    KEVIN WELNER is associate professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder School of Education, specializing in educational policy, law, and program evaluation. He is director of the CU-Boulder Education and the Public Interest Center (EPIC). A former attorney, Dr. Welner's research examines the intersection between education rights litigation and educational opportunity scholarship. His current research includes studies focusing on small-school reform, detracking, school choice, and tuition tax credits. His recent work includes two books, Under the Voucher Radar: The Emergence of Tuition Tax Credits for Private Schooling (Rowman & Littlefield, forthcoming), and Small Doses of Arsenic: A Bohemian Woman’s Story of Survival (with Sylvia Welner, Hamilton Books, 2005).
  • John Murphy
    South Side High School
    JOHN MURPHY is the IB coordinator at South Side High School in Rockville Centre, NY. He currently teaches Theory of Knowledge, and has taught English for grades 7-12, including IB English. His research interests include differentiated instruction, Multiple Intelligence Theory, and authentic assessment. This longitudinal study examines the long-term effects on the achievement of students at a diverse suburban high school after all students were given accelerated mathematics in a detracked middle school as well as ninth-grade ‘high-track’ curriculum in all subjects in heterogeneously grouped classes. Using quasi-experimental cohort design, the authors found that there was a statistically significant post-reform increase in the probability of students earning the New York State Regents diploma and the International Baccalaureate diploma.
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