Key Questions

1. For high-skill students, did classroom instruction and environment improve as a result of taking algebra with high-ability peers? For low-skill students, did classroom instruction and environment improve or decline as a result of taking two periods of algebra with low-ability peers?

2. For both high-ability and low-ability students, how did the changes in classroom academic composition and instruction/learning environment brought by the policy affect their test scores and failure rates?


Tracking has been criticized for impeding the academic progress of low performing students; however, eliminating tracking has also been shown to have negative consequences, particularly for high achieving students. This study examines the consequences of a policy which sorted ninth-grade algebra classes by students’ abilities, but provided doubled instructional time and additional supports for low ability students and their teachers. Results show that low-ability students received more demanding instruction and better pedagogy; these benefits helped mitigate negative effects of concentrating students with behavioral problems together. High ability students received more demanding instruction and had fewer classmates with behavioral problems, and this led to improvements in their test scores, but higher failure rates. We discuss implications for tracking practices.

This is a working paper. Working papers are preliminary versions that are shared in a timely manner, with the aim of contributing to ongoing conversations in research and practice. They have not undergone the UChicago Consortium’s full internal review process, nor have they received external peer review. Views expressed in this paper do not necessarily reflect those of the UChicago Consortium or the University of Chicago. Any errors are the authors’ own.