Tracking is something of a dirty word in education. Differentiated instruction is very much in. I can't necessarily say either of these prevailing winds is bad. Tracking can consign a student to a second-tier educational experience. Differentiated instruction acknowledges the difficulty of getting a whole class of adolescents to arrive at the same point in mastering a skill or content piece at the same time.
Today I was sifting through the results of my students on their first couple of tests for me. I broke down the data and sorted my students out into clusters. I made groups based on kids who aren't missing a beat, then groups of students who are struggling. Groups that seemed to be tripped up on the first test but then find range on the second. And so on.
Then I realized, I'm tracking them. I might be up to differentiated instruction, but I'm tracking them within my class.
I'm not ready to draw a conclusion as to whether or not I'm doing the right or wrong thing, or to cast some sort of judgment on tracking or DI. But I think it is worth wondering if tracking might be a more efficient means of doing what I'm doing. It's also worth wondering whether or not DI gives us the benefits of tracking without the cost of the way it traps kids into tracks that limit their possibilities.
. . . But the economics teacher must point out that there's no such thing as a free lunch. What I did takes time. Also, it's done by a novice at data. I avoided Statistics classes like the plague and, still after 17 years, I still don't have a true degree in education.