Is it time to stop segregating kids by ability in middle school math?

Oct 17, 2020 by

New York school district limits tracking by perceived ability while parents push back.

Academy boom: County's specialized science high school programs push  project-based learningC-VILLE Weekly

ITHACA, N.Y. — On a frigid Thursday in February, math teacher Marietta Gibb was warming up her sixth-graders at DeWitt Middle School with some algebraic expressions. She showed the students a video to review the math, then sent them scattering to different tables to practice the exercises they had found challenging.

“We don’t want anything too easy, because if you go to the gym and you pick up two pounds, what purpose is that?” Gibb said as she encouraged her students to select math problems at their individual levels. “[And] we don’t want to pick up the weight that’s way too much for us, because we’ll end up hurting ourselves.”

At a table in back, two girls matched bright blue cutouts of unsolved equations with their solved counterparts. Two boys worked on riddles that tested them on combining like terms. A student practiced distributing negative numbers on a whiteboard.

This is the look of the Ithaca City School District’s new effort to limit tracking — or separating students by perceived ability — in middle school math. Instead of sixth- and seventh-graders being divided into lower and accelerated levels, the students take classes of equal rigor but sometimes work in small groups, split up to practice specific skills, or pair up with another student who can guide them through a problem.

The district began rolling out the program two years ago after recognizing that students of color made up a disproportionate share of pupils in lower-level math classes. Just 22 percent of students in the district are Black, Latino or multiracial, but in some lower-level math classes, kids of color were overrepresented, according to teachers and administrators. Ithaca is hardly unique: Nationally, Black and Latino students are significantly less likely than White and Asian students to take accelerated math in middle school.

Source: Schools try to detrack middle school math classes. – The Washington Post

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