In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Tracking and Detracking

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Research Syntheses
  • Tracking: Landmark Empirical Studies
  • Detracking: General Empirical Research
  • Historical Origins
  • School-Level Tracking
  • Policy and Politics
  • Legal Issues
  • Race, Class, and Ethnicity
  • Access and Equity
  • Perspectives of Secondary School Students
  • Perspectives of Secondary School Teachers
  • International Comparisons
  • Gifted Education
  • Resources for Detracking Schools

Education Tracking and Detracking
Holly Yettick, Kevin G. Welner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 July 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0148


Tracking exposes different groups of students to different curricula, varying in terms of academic expectations, challenge, and other factors. Track placements may be based on students’ self-sorting choices or on the basis of criteria such as test results, essays, grades, prerequisite courses, educator perceptions, and parental requests. The practice is also known as ability grouping, leveling, streaming, and homogeneous grouping, with some educators and researchers drawing small distinctions between the different terms. However, for the purposes of simplicity, the term “tracking” will be used throughout this entry. Similarly, this entry uses the term “detracking” throughout, to refer to the process of reducing or eliminating the use of tracking—although terms such as mixed-ability grouping, heterogeneous grouping, and universal acceleration have also been used.

General Overviews

This section presents a sample of high-quality, brief, balanced overviews suitable for those who are generally unfamiliar with tracking and detracking. Three are one-pagers aimed at busy policymakers, parents, voters, and practitioners. These sources are Education Week 2004, National Association of Secondary School Principals 2006, and National Education Association 2010. Hallinan 2004 and Rubin 2006 are both written by American scholars who have studied tracking and/or detracking, but their reviews are aimed at a generalist audience. Finally, the Ireson and Hallam 1999 overview is focused on UK research and educational policies.

  • Hallinan, Maureen. 2004. The detracking movement: Why children are still grouped by ability. Education Next 4.4: 72–76.

    The author, a sociologist and detracking skeptic, summarizes research and policy in a clear, simple, and balanced manner. Resource is free and available without site registration.

  • Ireson, Judith, and Susan Hallam. 1999. Raising standards: Is ability grouping the answer? Oxford Review of Education 25.3: 343–358.

    DOI: 10.1080/030549899104026

    This accessibly written academic article reviews the literature on tracking, with a focus on UK educational contexts and literature.

  • National Association of Secondary School Principals. 2006. Tracking and ability grouping in middle level and high schools.

    The United States’ largest association of secondary school principals provides this brief description of tracking, which includes the organization’s recommendations for school administrators. Resource is free and available without site registration.

  • National Education Association. 2010. Research spotlight on academic ability grouping.

    The nation’s largest teachers’ union briefly summarizes research on tracking and also provides links to additional resources on the topic. Resource is free and available without site registration.

  • Rubin, Beth. 2006. Tracking and detracking: Debates, evidence, and best practices for a heterogeneous world. Theory into Practice 45.1: 4–14.

    DOI: 10.1207/s15430421tip4501_2

    Although written for an academic journal, this article provides a brief and accessible overview of research related to tracking and detracking and relevant policy debates. The author is decidedly skeptical of tracking, but her work is also critical of certain aspects of detracking.

  • Tracking.” Education Week. 2004.

    Education Week is one of America’s most comprehensive news sources on K-12 schools. The publication provides this brief overview of tracking on its website, which is also a good resource for news on tracking and detracking. The overview contains links to additional resources, including news coverage. The site may, however, require registration and/or subscription.

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