We use terms like tracking and on track interchangeably, referring to monitoring student’s progress toward high school graduation and college enrollment, or to students completing the necessary requirements for college, including meeting ACT benchmarks. In Kentucky with the passage of SB 1, there are additional expectations for keeping students on track, such as making available Advanced Placement and dual credit college courses, and ensuring that students meet the highest academic standards reflected in the Common Core.
But tracking has another meaning besides monitoring student progress. It refers also to a long-established practice of grouping students according to their perceived ability and the assumed path they will follow beyond high school. Because so much as been written in both research studies and professional literature about the limiting and negative effects of tracking on students’ futures, most schools that track call it something else. So in Kentucky, as schools implement SB 1, school leaders are faced with a dilemma. If they truly want to ensure that all students meet rigorous academic standards and are prepared for college, they need to eliminate tracking as a course assignment policy. Yet schools that track have an entrenched and complex structure of course assignment, supported by teacher expectations to teach students of similar abilities and past performance levels. This tradition of tracking, whatever is called, is not easy to change.
School leaders in Kentucky are faced with a challenge of ensuring rigor for all students and opening opportunities for advanced level work. How can they meet this challenge? First, they must build a consensus among the faculty that they will do whatever is necessary to prepare students for advanced study in high school and beyond. This consensus plays out as faculties:
- Remove low level courses and ensure that all courses meet the Common Core State Standards, in KY referred to as KCAS.
- Open Advanced Placement and dual credit courses to all students, while providing additional scaffolding and support for students who were previously in low track classes where they did not get the necessary preparation to succeed.
- Adopt classroom pedagogy that minimizes differences in students’ preparation and builds on student strengths and interests, engaging them more fully in learning.
- Strengthen the link between what is learned in school, and how that learning applies to college and career.
Changing the culture of a school is not a simple task and cannot be accomplished by the principal alone. Both formal and informal leaders in the school need to work together along with faculty to create a college-going culture if students are to graduate from high school ready for college.