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Tracking and mixed-ability grouping in secondary school mathematics classrooms: a case study

By Hamsa Venkatakrishnan and Dylan Wiliam


This paper reports the findings of a retrospective study of ‘tracked’ grouping in a mathematics department in a co-educational comprehensive school in Greater London. Tracking consisted here of just two tracks, a 'fast track' for the top 25-30% of a cohort, and 'mixed tracks' for the remainder. The paper outlines the reasons for introducing tracking and explores the effects of this through analysis of interviews with teachers and data on the progress of students from age 14 to age 16. The teachers reported that tracking impacted differently on different students, and this is borne out by the quantitative data. It was not possible to provide for ‘setting’ across all the mathematics classrooms in the focal cohort, and one mixedability class was created. The use of analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) models shows that fast-track students were not significantly advantaged by their placement in these tracks, but the progress of students in the mixed-ability group showed a significant interaction between progress and prior attainment, with placement in the mixed-ability group conferring a significant advantage on lower-attaining students, while the disadvantage to higher attaining students was much smaller

Year: 2003
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