Detracking and Tracking Up

Mathematics Course Placements in California Middle Schools, 2003–2013

Published in: American Educational Research Journal, 2016

Posted on RAND.org on June 01, 2016

by Thurston Domina, Paul Hanselman, NaYoung Hwang, Andrew McEachin

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Between 2003 and 2013, the proportion of California eighth graders enrolled in algebra or a more advanced course nearly doubled to 65%. In this article, we consider the organizational processes that accompanied this curricular intensification. Facing a complex set of accountability, institutional, technical/functional, and internal political pressures, California schools responded to the algebra-for-all effort in diverse ways. While some schools detracked by enrolling all eighth graders in algebra, others "tracked up," creating more advanced geometry opportunities while increasing algebra enrollments. These responses created a new differentiated course structure that is likely to benefit advantaged students. Consistent with the effectively maintained inequality hypothesis, we find that detracking occurred primarily in disadvantaged schools while "tracking up" occurred primarily in advantaged schools.

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