America’s Inadequate Tracking System

WE ARE BACK! Our hiatus has finally ended and I’m happy to present one of our newest regular writers, Peter. Peter’s a colleague at the Roosevelt Campus Chapter and a fellow freshman at Hendrix this year. He’s kicking off a weekly series of articles he’ll be writing with the one below on tracking in American education policy. I hope you enjoy his work and find it as engaging as I do! 

– Chirag

America’s Inadequate Tracking System

Many individuals have taken the stance that the American tracking system in public Education is a flawed evaluation process which must stop. Tracking is an evaluation system where test scores and grades are compiled annually by teachers and guidance counselors to help students succeed in school. The intent behind the practice is that students will be guided into coursework which will fit their academic needs, and thereby will utilize their skills and talents to their maximum potential, making every student succeed based on their strengths.

Yet, the system is failing in almost every regard. Tracking simply is a compilation of test scores, without any real deliberation between the counselors and the teachers. Sometimes, the counselors are just administrative positions, who engage infrequently with their students. Honestly, the tracking shows a few standardized test scores and a GPA, but nothing about the actual student’s progress or interests is included. I was blessed to have parents as teachers, who in addition to excellent teachers and counselors, were able to help guide me through my academic career to make decisions to expand my knowledge, follow my interests, and refine my skills.

Some schools, such as New Trier high school in Winnetka, Illinois, have done an excellent job tracking students at all levels. Using a five level class structure, they require students to engage with their guidance counselors to discuss their academic interests and struggles, and are given suggestions based on test scores on what classes to take next year. The process prepares students by pairing them with the appropriate challenges in school, without leaving anyone overwhelmed or underwhelmed. As a whole, New Trier is ranked one of the best public schools in the nation.

Other nations have adopted a more engaging tracking system, where the evaluations are less standardized and require more student-counselor interaction. Finland is widely viewed as a nation with one of the best Education systems in the entire world. A major component of their success comes from the mentoring program they have. In Finland, every student is assigned a guidance counselor, who will interact regularly to discuss the interests of the student. Not just simply what is interesting and what is mundane in the classroom, but just simply what fascinates the student in life, and what leaves the student bored. This complex tracking system relies very little on test scores, since Finland rarely does standardized tests, but requires more collaboration between counselors and teachers, along with interaction between counselors and students. The Finnish system leaves almost all students prepared for post-secondary life, whether they attend college, trade school, or community college.

I see benefits through a tracking system. However, many of these benefits only reveal themselves through collaboration and interaction amongst counselors, teachers and students. Any tracking system minus the human component will just struggle to adequately serve every student. Unfortunately, America’s Education system has adopted this incomplete tracking model. Schools like New Trier have demonstrated that the model can be adjusted to be more effective and benefit more students. The improvements may be costly, I will concede that. But by tracking students in a more effective way, we will see student achievement exponentially increase, and these gains will benefit our nation as a whole. These benefits outweigh any cost, and government at all levels should find places in their budgets to cut in order to pay for these changes to the tracking system. The student achievement will allow the United States’ economy to expand, and the additional influx of revenue will be a great return on the investment of each level of government. So why are we waiting?  Let’s take the outline of tracking and finally fill it in with substance in order to greatly improve the quality of America’s Education system and see the benefits of a system which is meant to cater to all students.

Just something to think about,

Peter pages 8-13


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