Math is Figure-Out-Able!

Ep 185: Tracking

January 02, 2024 Pam Harris
Ep 185: Tracking
Math is Figure-Out-Able!
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Math is Figure-Out-Able!
Ep 185: Tracking
Jan 02, 2024
Pam Harris

Tracking students and sorting them into 'higher'/'lower' tracks is a topic that we have really, really firm feelings about. In this episode Pam and Kim discuss the unintended consequences of tracking students and offer some ideas to consider.

Talking Points

  • Who does tracking benefit, who does it hurt?
  • Distaste for the vocabulary used to describe tracks of kids
  • Everyone can do more real math than fake math
  • From our experience as a teacher
  • From our experience as a parent
  • From a student's perspective

Check out our social media
Twitter: @PWHarris
Instagram: Pam Harris_math
Facebook: Pam Harris, author, mathematics education
Linkedin: Pam Harris Consulting LLC 

Show Notes Transcript

Tracking students and sorting them into 'higher'/'lower' tracks is a topic that we have really, really firm feelings about. In this episode Pam and Kim discuss the unintended consequences of tracking students and offer some ideas to consider.

Talking Points

  • Who does tracking benefit, who does it hurt?
  • Distaste for the vocabulary used to describe tracks of kids
  • Everyone can do more real math than fake math
  • From our experience as a teacher
  • From our experience as a parent
  • From a student's perspective

Check out our social media
Twitter: @PWHarris
Instagram: Pam Harris_math
Facebook: Pam Harris, author, mathematics education
Linkedin: Pam Harris Consulting LLC 

Pam  00:00

Hey, fellow mathematicians! Welcome to the podcast where Math is Figure-Out-Able! I'm Pam. 


Kim  00:06

And I'm Kim. 


Pam  00:07

And you found a place where mathematics is not about memorizing and mimicking, where students are waiting to be told or shown what to do. But we're diving in and making sense of problems, noticing patterns, and reasoning using mathematical relationships. We can mentor students to think and reason like mathematicians were doing as they were growing. Not only are algorithms not particularly helpful in teaching mathematics, but rotely repeating steps actually keeps students from being the mathematicians they can be. Hey, Kim.


Kim  00:38

Hi. I didn't pick us a review today. I know everybody is sad to hear that. But we a lot to say today, and it's kind of a topic that is near and dear to our hearts. So, I didn't pick one. Anyway, I wanted to jump right in. So.


Pam  00:55



Kim  00:57

Listeners, today's episode has been on our minds for a while. Lately, for sure. But it's something that we have really, really firm feelings about. And so, it comes up from time to time. And we just kind of look at each other, and we know how we both feel. And it's, you know, when we're in conversation with other people...


Pam  01:17

We kind of do that silent communication.


Kim  01:18

It can be tricky. (unclear).


Pam  01:20

Yeah, yeah. It's like, how much do we go into here? You know, do we dive in now? 


Kim  01:24



Pam  01:25

And to be clear, let's maybe start by saying, this is a tricky conversation. 


Kim  01:29



Pam  01:30

It's not trivial. One thing we're not saying is, "Psh. Then, just go do it." Like, not at all. So, yeah. Thinking about my travels this fall. I've done a lot of traveling this last year. And one of the things that kept coming up is tracking. I think Canada calls it "streaming". It's where we sort of sort students. Let me... I'll tell you a for instance. So, I went to a brilliant school. I had a great time. It was a fantastic group of educators. In fact, it might have been the presentation that I did, the workshop I did this last year, where I got the most really good pushback. Like, they were (unclear).


Kim  02:10

Oh, you loved that. 


Pam  02:11

I loved it. They had such good questions. They were just, you know, "Like, tell us more about this." And, "Wait, wait, how about this." And they had really good, "How will that work with this?" You know like, they were just trying to poke holes in all the things. And then, they would smile big when I had an answer. Anyway, so they were really pushing back a lot. And in one of the breaks, I was walking around. I was talking with the teachers. And one of the teachers said something. I can't remember exactly how it came up. But something about tracking. And the teacher said, "Well, you know, when I taught science, I taught one year where I had all the kids, and it was a nightmare. And then, we tracked the kids, and we had kind of this low class, this on level class, and this extended class." Or what do you call it? What do you call it? Sort of low, on level... What's another word for the high class?


Kim  02:57



Pam  02:58

Advanced. Accelerated. Yeah, one of those. And she goes, "Oh, then it was so much easier." And in that moment, I just kind of almost had to walk away because what I was screaming in my head was, "Easier for whom? Better for whom?" You know, she's like, "It's so much better. It's so much easier." And I would just respectfully invite everyone to consider that I agree. It's probably easier for the teacher who teaches the on-level and the advanced class. I'm not sure it's easier for the teacher who teaches the quote, unquote, "low" class. But put all that aside. It's not better for the students. 


Kim  03:45

For any of them.


Pam  03:46

Any of them. And you might be like, "Oh, it's so much better for those high kids because they could just zoom along and get all the stuff done." And Kim and I are going to respectfully push back against that. And you might find it interesting that Kim and I were kind of in that. Like, we were tracked. We were sort of in that higher group. I'm not saying that to brag. I'm just saying we had the experience of, I don't know, kind of being what? Shoved along into higher content without really understanding it. And I'm not saying that's the way that every accelerated class is. But we are now much more clear of what we missed because of that. What wasn't happening in those cases. Again...


Kim  04:24

Hey, I'm going to interrupt you for just a second because a couple of times you said, "lower", "higher", and (unclear).


Pam  04:28

I know, and I'm cringing every time I say it. Yeah.


Kim  04:31

Alright, I just want to make it clear. Those are the words that people have been using. 


Pam  04:34

Yeah, so that's the reason I'm using them. 


Kim  04:36



Pam  04:37

Yeah. So, however you have kind of described these situations where you've kind of track kids. 


Kim  04:42



Pam  04:43

Kim and I are cringing the whole time that I'm saying because we don't call kids or classes "low". We don't call kids or classes "high". We might say, "Oh, so you have tracked your kids into these things." And then, boy, one of my favorite questions to ask right off the bat is, "How have you chosen who goes (unclear) places? 


Kim  05:02



Pam  05:02

"How have you made those decisions?"


Kim  05:03



Pam  05:04

To be really clear, I taught at a school where... Well, I just have so much in my head right now, so I don't know if this is the best place to start, but I will. I taught at a school where all of the students I got as freshmen, as ninth graders, were not tracked. They were not streamed. So, they came into me, and I had them all. I will be really honest with you that I do think we had a pullout, Special Ed program at that point. So, I think. I don't actually... It was my beginning of my teaching career, so it was quite a while ago. But I'm not sure about that because I definitely had 504s in my room. I had kids that had 504s were in the room. So, I'm not exactly sure how much of that was happening. But I do know that we didn't have this kind of lower level, higher level, whatever. And at the same time, in their eighth grade year before I had them, they were not kids who were taking algebra and some kids were taking on level, and some kids were taking... That was not happening. All kids were taking eighth grade math, and then when I got them all kids were taking ninth grade math. So, I have taught in a situation where I had all the students in my classroom, and we were working hard at teaching algebra to these ninth grade kids. And Kim is laughing right now because she knows ninth grade is not my favorite grade. To all of you who like ninth graders, my hat is off to you. They're just too squirrely for me. I would actually rather, I think, teach eighth grade. Though, I never did. But I think I might rather teach eighth grade. Or tenth and up. But somehow... I don't know. I mean, I can do it. I can do it. And I have a great time with them. But it's not my jam. So, I have an experience of teaching in. I have the experience as a student where I was tracked and as a teacher where my kids were not tracked. And Kim, I think you have had some experience where you had.


Kim  06:54



Pam  06:54

Can you tell us about that? 


Kim  06:56

Well, I mean, I taught third through fifth. 


Pam  06:58

Hey, before you do. I'm sorry. Let me just... I mentioned that Canada had streams. So, lately, in some of the provinces in Canada, they have de-streamed their grade nine math. So, it would be similar to what I just described where I am. So, we can have this sort of tracking name. We can have this kind of streaming name. Kim, you had a. Now, please tell us about your experience.


Kim  07:19

Well, I taught third through fifth grade. And so, that's typically not a tracked grade level. Although it can be.


Pam  07:28



Kim  07:30

Gosh, where to start? When I... So many. So many classes. So, my student-teaching experience was in a tracked fourth grade classroom. And at the time, you know, I didn't really know any better. And so, when I got there, they said, "Hey, this is how math works. And all the kids stand up at the time. And they all leave the room, and sit down, and do the thing." And she said to me, "You have the advanced class." And I was like, "Okay." And, I don't know, like the first day I was like, "This is a little bit strange." But I didn't... You know, it wasn't my choice. And over time, I got really uncomfortable just with the idea of the sort. And I think so from the very beginning, it didn't feel right. Even the behavior of get up, leave the classroom that's your home classroom, and go somewhere else because you're not quote unquote, "good enough". Like, I really, really struggled with that. And then, when I was teaching... I don't (unclear) talk about the situations that we did for testing and stuff? 


Pam  08:34

Yeah, please. 


Kim  08:35

Okay, so I taught third, fourth, and fifth. And it was their very heavily tested math grades in Texas.


Pam  08:42



Kim  08:43

And so, there came a point in the year. You know, I had my whole class for the whole year. And then, often, there would come a time in the year where state testing was coming. There's like six weeks before or maybe four weeks before. And the practice in the school was to take all the students in the grade level and sort them. Typically based on previous practice test scores. And we would sort them into groups. And if there were six classroom teachers, we pull them on a pile, and then we'd sort them into six classes, six groups. So, we'd have maybe one larger group of the kids who were expected to make "commended", the highest score. And all those kids went to a room, and they got some sort of extension project whatever. Then, you might have...


Pam  09:39

Which kind of means you sort of left them alone. "You're going to get it. We know you are. Go." 


Kim  09:43

And, frankly, the least experienced teacher typically took them, or the one that like needed a break, or whatever. 


Pam  09:48

Because they're not going to mess them up.


Kim  09:51

Or if we would like get a sub type person, right? Like, "You guys are on your own. You're good to go." And it was just for a portion of our day and whatever. But anyway. And so, then, there was like the kind of next group like your maybe A or B expected, whatever. And on, and on, and on. And there were two groups, maybe two or three groups, that were really the groups that were identified really heavily. One group was kind of the group of kids who had some difficulties. They were not expected to pass for whatever reason, and so that might have been called the low group. And they were clustered together. Maybe there was like eight, or ten, or six. Or I don't know. 


Pam  10:36

And again, we don't like that word "low".


Kim  10:38

And the whole thing is horrible! The whole thing is horrible! Right, this is 20 years ago, and not the (unclear). 


Pam  10:45

So, surely, Kim, then that group, that's where you poured your best teachers.


Kim  10:49



Pam  10:49

And most resources.


Kim  10:51

No, no. That was basically, "They're not going to pass. And so, let's just put them together, and we'll just do some sort of remediation." But there was always another class or two. Typically, two. And that was for the bubble kids. And the bubble kids were...


Pam  11:09

Are you really calling them bubble kids?


Kim  11:10

That's what they would call them. Not to their face, but they certainly knew it. I mean, kids know. So, there were approximately, I don't know, like... 


Pam  11:18

Why are you calling them bubble? 


Kim  11:20

Because they were on the cusp of passing, and...


Pam  11:25

The high stakes test. 


Kim  11:26

Mmhm. The high stakes test. And you might, might not. But you might if we give you a little extra support. And so, there might have been like two groups. And the most talented teachers, the most experienced teachers, the whatever. The teachers who volunteered. I don't even remember why they were chosen. Were the ones who taught in those groups. You know, you keep them kind of small. Six, eight. And so, we might have had some years, just one bubble group. I'm air quoting. And then like, maybe some years, we would have two depending on the students. And those were the ones that got poured into the most because there was a prayer that they would pass. And like I'm saying it really like kind of meanly and harshly. And I think people just didn't know. And maybe there are plenty of schools who still do that. And I'm not about saying that we shouldn't support students. And I'm not saying that we shouldn't, you know, help them zoom in on the few skills that might be useful. But the idea that we would then take a month of our time and sort kids to focus on the test is a whole other issue. But the sorting, and then ignoring some kids, while we focus on the other kids has still been a challenge for me to swallow that I was a part of that. You know, I... 


Pam  12:45



Kim  12:46

That played along.


Pam  12:47

Well, and so we're not going to get lost down this. But I do want to acknowledge what you just said about. Like, there is this pressure to get kids to pass these stupid high stakes tests. And probably if, you know, if I had the podium to talk to the world, I would say to parents and people that are making the rules, the legislature on high that are making all these, sort of setting these standards, I would say the test does not do what you think it does.


Kim  13:12



Pam  13:13

Like, you think that it ensures that kids all get a great education because you're making sure that teachers are there for. And it doesn't do that. What it does is it creates scenarios like this, where there's this incredible pressure on principals and on teachers to get the kids to pass the test. And so, they pour all their energy. They do these crazy, stupid things like Kim's describing, where they do this segregation. And they call it the "camp". And it's the fun thing. And it's like, we’re going to rah, rah. But in reality, there are groups of kids who get ignored and groups of kids who get like pressured. And it's...


Kim  13:47

And really... Sorry. 


Pam  13:49

It's just not what we believe in for education. 


Kim  13:52

And I think it comes from a belief that there are low kids, and there are high kids. And so, for whatever reason you sort them. You could sort them from like day one in a true tracking system. So, the idea of tracking, in my mind, comes from the belief that people have that there are low kids, there are medium kids, and there are high kids. And when you don't have that mindset, then tracking just screams ridiculous.


Pam  14:19

"What are you doing?" 


Kim  14:19

Right. Right, right. 


Pam  14:20

Yeah. Yeah. And so, maybe I'll tell a story now from my perspective. So, I moved to a new school at one point, and as a new teacher in a high school, I was teaching a lot of Algebra 1. It was kind of... I actually loved how that school set what teachers taught. Maybe we talk about this some other time. They did a good job of kind of everybody taught something they wanted to teach and everybody taught something that they didn't necessarily want to teach. So, we kind of all... I had some Algebra 1, but I also had a geometry class. Even though I was the new teacher on the block they, you know, let me kind of teach one of the higher classes. Often, we don't want to... I don't know. Maybe I'm not the only one who doesn't want to teach freshmen. It was fine. I enjoyed Algebra 1. Anyway, blah, blah, blah. So, for that reason, I'm teaching a lot of Algebra 1 and some geometry. And the way they... So, they didn't track. This is the same school that did not track through ninth grade. But then, they did. So, then, at that point they said... And I don't... Well, I'll just stay there. So, then, they said, "Let's decide who's going to take Algebra 2 next year. So, Pam..." They handed me a list of all the students that I had in Algebra 1, and they said, "Who is capable of taking Algebra 2 and being successful next year?" So, I want to just stop here for a second and say one of the things that Kim and I are going to gently push on is how are you choosing who gets to go into whatever, you know, place that you're. How are you tracking? How are you choosing? Is it teacher recommendation? Is it a test that only tests memory and fake math? Is it... You know, can we all admit that the system for choosing who goes into those tracks could be flawed, could have some problems with it? So, the way that we did it in this particular school is we looked at grades that could influence, but the general, biggest thing was teacher recommendation. Well, I actually like that if we've got teachers with a real math perspective. If teachers really understand real math and are teaching real math, then I think teacher recommendation could be a fine thing that could at least influence what classes kids could take the next year. So, the teachers came to me and said, "This is how you do it. You know, we know you're new here, so go look down this list and choose only the students who will be successful in Algebra 2 next year." Just for those of you that teach high school, kids from Algebra 1, if they wanted to, could take Algebra 2 the next year. They would double up. They would take Geometry and Algebra 2. And that's kind of how kids got from that ninth grade algebra into calculus if they wanted to double up. So, my job was to say, "Could a kid be successful in Algebra 2." And so, I went down, and I marked all the kids who could be successful in Algebra 2, which were almost all of the students that I had because they could be successful in taking Algebra 2. The teachers in charge came back to me, and they said, "Oh, hey, you must have misunderstood. Like, there's way more students in Algebra 2 than we've ever had before. So, you know, we'll tell you again. We know you're new here. Only the students who can be successful in Algebra 2 should. Now, I'm actually giving them a little more credit than I might should because at that time they literally said, "Only the good enough kids". Like, the language is a little... I'm kind of being nice about their language. You know, it's only the high kids. Like, we don't want any low kids. Just only the high kids. And so, I said, in that moment when they would be like, "Oh, maybe you didn't understand. Only those..." And so, I said, "Um sure. So sorry. I misunderstood." Though, I hadn't. "Hand me. You know, let me look at that list again." And in front of them, I looked down that list, and I did not change a student recommendation. And I handed it back to them and I said, "No, these guys are good. They're good. Yeah, they will be successful in Algebra 2." They glared at me. They were like, "No, really. We only want kids that can. We only want the good kids. We only want the smart kids in Algebra 2." And I said, "These kids can be successful." And they said, "I don't want them. And I said, "Give them to me. I will take them. And then, they kind of glared at me because they're like, "We're not giving you Algebra 2 next year." And I was like, "I'm telling you right now, this many kids can be successful in Algebra 2." And I stuck to my guns. And so, it was honestly not my intent. But I did then get sections of Algebra 2 the next year. And they started filtered out where every kid... Not filter. That's not the right word I meant. All the kids were evenly distributed among the three or four of us that taught Algebra 2. And within days, and a few weeks, I started getting kids transferring into my sections. And those other teachers were like, "You recommended this kid. They can't do it. They're yours." And I said, "Bring them on. Give them to me. I'll take them. You bet." And those kids, by jo, were successful in Algebra 2 because I was teaching at least the real math as much... Still, back then, I was still learning a whole lot of it. But I had a belief that kids can. Like, we can actually. As I'm getting excited here. So, there's a story from my. And it went on. Kim, the next year, at the end of that year, they said, "Okay, same thing." Well, not the end. When kids are registering. "Same thing. Alright, from your kids in Algebra 2 tell us which kids can go on and be successful in precalculus." And I said, "Oh, yeah. Yeah." And they glared at me. And I was like, "Yeah, no problem. Don't worry. I'll do it. I'll do it really well." And our precalculus enrollment doubled. 


Kim  14:20



Pam  19:37

And the next year, our calculus enrollment doubled. Those kids can.


Kim  19:41

Yeah, absolutely. 


Pam  19:41

Kids can. They absolutely. Now, this gets a little sticky because I will say, is there such thing as cognitive ability? Yes. Do some kids have more cognitive ability than others? Yes. But we all can do more real math than we can fake math. Everyone can do more real math than fake math. 


Kim  20:01



Pam  20:01



Kim  20:04

Can we talk about our kids for a second?


Pam  20:07

Yeah. Yeah, you want to start that? 


Kim  20:09



Pam  20:11

Our personal kids.


Kim  20:12

Personal kids, personal kids. My oldest was in sixth grade, and he was... You know, it was the first time they have the advanced track. So, elementary school at their school was not tracked in any way. Sixth grade, you take advanced or not. Luke enjoys math. And so, he opted to take the advanced class. And towards the end of his eighth grade class. So, the way they do it at the school here is you take sixth grade and half of seventh grade in the sixth grade class. And then, in seventh grade advanced, you do half of seventh grade and eighth grade, so that you can take Algebra 1 in eighth grade. I think that might be fairly traditional for advanced tracks. 


Pam  20:53

There are a lot of people that do that. Yeah.


Kim  20:55

Yeah. So, towards the end of his sixth grade year, I got a call from somebody. Counselor, I don't know. AP whatever. And they said, "Hey, so we think that there's this handful of five kids." I don't remember the exact number. Four, five, six. "And we think that they can skip seventh grade and take Algebra 1 in seventh grade. (unclear). 


Pam  21:16

Just skip it. Just flat out.


Kim  21:17

Yeah, just skip it. But what you have to do is you have to take a test basically. The eighth grade, end of course test. You need to take the eighth grade, end of course test to prove that you know enough to take the Algebra 1 class. And I was like, "What does that mean?" And, you know, all the questions. And I'm calling you. Do you remember me calling you? 


Pam  21:35

I do.


Kim  21:36

And I was like...


Pam  21:36

Because we had some conversations about tracking, and how I felt about it. 


Kim  21:39

Well, yeah. Yeah. And I'm not a fan. 


Pam  21:41

Now, you as a parent. This is the first time you as a parent kind of are faced with this situation. 


Both Pam and Kim  21:46

Yeah. Yeah. 


Kim  21:47

And so, you know, I like hemmed and hawed, and I was really struggling because Luke enjoys math. And, you know... Anyway, so I said, "Let's have him take the test, and like just see what happens. So, he took the test. Oh, actually, I'm forgetting the best part of the story. So, they took the test. And then, parents found out about it. And then, when parents found out... And, you know, of course, their argument was, "Why are you hand choosing these five kids?" 


Pam  22:22

Hand choosing who got to take the test, right? It wasn't a test for everybody. (unclear).


Kim  22:26

Yep. It was not. They were handpicked. Yep.


Pam  22:28



Kim  22:29



Pam  22:30

(unclear) "Why not my kid?" 


Kim  22:31

Yeah, yeah, yeah. For sure. For sure, for sure. And so, then, you know, a lot of people were like, "Everybody should get to take the test." So, then, it became everybody in the grade level took the test. Everybody in the advanced track took the test. And I think that kind of backfired a little bit too because then parents didn't know about it. And they were like, "Wait, my kid has to take this test and like you're telling them about the class..." It was just kind of an unfortunate situation. But in the end, I think there was like maybe... Oh, that's not true. They sorted again. But as it turns out, the five kids that were originally picked, were the five that did well on the eighth grade end of course. So, those are the ones. Anyway. And so, hemmed and hawed for a long time.


Pam  23:17

We would agree, though...just before you leave this...that if they're going to give some kind of opportunity, they should have given it to all the kids. 


Kim  23:25

Yes, absolutely. 


Pam  23:25

The unfortunate part was that they didn't communicate well. And it was kind of. 


Kim  23:28

Yeah, yeah, yeah.


Pam  23:29

That was hard. 


Kim  23:29

For sure. 


Pam  23:30

Mmhm. Yeah.


Kim  23:30

And so, then, you know, I was struggling because I thought, "Oh, do I let him? Do I see value, obviously, in him being with peers?" Because the way it was going to work is he was just going to go do his own thing and whatever. And he was with this cluster of kids, but they did stuff kind of online. Anyway, I struggled a lot because I thought if they're going to offer this, then I would like for him to take advantage of what's offered. And, frankly, I had some reservations about what the math was... It was going to be very traditional. The class that he was going to (unclear) very, very traditional. And if he was going to do something kind of on his own path, then it wasn't going to be as traditional. So, that was appealing. Anyway, long story short, I struggled. We let him do it.


Pam  24:18

Well, let me say one more other thing, if I may, that you struggled with. As soon as they decide to track. 


Kim  24:25



Pam  24:26

So, now they've pulled his best friends, his four best friends are now going to do this thing. You now have almost a social consideration as well. Because now, he's not only has this opportunity to do. You know, maybe... Let me just say it again. I think what I heard you said is if he stayed in the kind of regular track, whatever, then...


Kim  24:48

The path he was supposed to be on would have been very traditional.


Pam  24:51

Would have been super traditional. And so, you had hopes that maybe if he did the other one, he actually could learn more math because it would be less memorization, less (unclear).


Kim  24:59

Well, because he was given the opportunity to do stuff kind of on his own. And he's the type of kid who will study and like (unclear). 


Pam  25:07

Dive in, and work, and... 


Kim  25:08

(unclear). Yes, he would. Then, he would ask questions. We would talk about it. And so...


Pam  25:12

But you're clear that while that's good for him in math. It wasn't so good for him socially, right?


Kim  25:17



Pam  25:17

So, like all these. Yeah, all these different...


Kim  25:19

No conversations, no differences, no... So, it was a big struggle, but where it landed, was they offered it.


Pam  25:25

And if you had kept him in the way he was supposed to go, his four comrades. 


Kim  25:32



Pam  25:32

His four comrades would be out of the... And I think that's one of the things that parents face. So, go ahead. I should have let you finish your sentence. Sorry. 


Kim  25:40

Well, they weren't necessarily friends, but they were kids in his class who were offered that as well. And because it was offered, I think parents often say, "I mean, if you're offering to advance my kid, I want in on that. 


Pam  25:56

Yeah. Like, why would you ever not have your kid do the sort of advanced thing.


Kim  26:01

And, you know, if the situation would have been that he was going to get the kind of math that I feel strongly about, then advanced or not, that wouldn't have been something we had chosen. And so, you know, it's definitely a struggle because I don't believe in tracking, but then there's my kid, you know, doing the thing. So. 


Pam  26:22

Well, and so I think part of our point in this podcast is those of you out there who have any kind of influence or you're making any kind of say about tracking, we would invite you to consider the position that you put parents in. Yes. Because often, I will hear teachers complain, "Oh, I can't believe these parents. They just want to socially promote their kid. Like, we have this track, and they just want their kid in there because it's the place to be." To which I say, "Yeah, because you created it." Like, you've created a situation where they don't want their kid to be left behind. And you've also created a situation where especially depending on how you are sorting the kids, where you're creating a place where the more compliant kids are in one track and the less compliant kids are in the quote, unquote, "lower" track. And so, now you've got parents who are like, "I don't want my kid in with those kids. Like, those kids are not college bound. They're not really..." And whatever words they put to it. They're not as compliant. That looks less safe. It looks less... Like, my kid is going to have advantages, and safety, and... 


Kim  27:27

More opportunities. 


Pam  27:28

More opportunities. And also, so my particular kid was in this situation. So, my daughter. It was at the same place...our kids are in the same district...where from fifth to sixth grade, they were doing this tracky thing. And she didn't... So, it's not the one you were talking about because that was the year after, right? Because your son sixth grade did the advanced track, and then they were doing the... Yeah. Yep.  So, when they were saying, "Hey, all the fifth grade kids, we're going to give you this test, and you're going to either test in or out of the track in sixth grade," my daughter didn't pass the test. Hope you don't mind me saying that.


Kim  27:58

Oh, see we didn't even do that. You just got to choose. The teachers had to kind of recommend. 


Pam  28:03

Oh, that's interesting. 


Kim  28:03

But like....


Pam  28:04



Kim  28:04

...guess how many kids are in the advanced track when you get to choose? A ton! 


Pam  28:08

Well, of course because parents are going to choose for their. Yeah. Why would you ever say, "Nah. Go ahead and leave my kid in the low group." Like, what? Anyway, so Abby had to take test. I think it was actually just the state, high stakes test scores that they looked at. Anyway. Whatever it was, she didn't meet it. Well, my daughter is brilliant. 


Kim  28:27



Pam  28:28

She can math with the best of them. 


Kim  28:31



Pam  28:31

She has dyslexia, and so sometimes tests are a little tricky. Sure. For whatever it was, for whatever reason, she didn't quite meet whatever the standard was. So, I went to the principal who I know well, and I said, "Hey, like, I understand you have this arbitrary rule about this cut off about kids." Whatever, whatever. "But you have put me as a parent in the place, where because of the way you're sorting, you've got kids that are..." How do I say? Parents are more involved. They're sort of on a college track. They're the kids who are following the rules. Where you've now sorted everybody into that group, and kids where parents are less involved, and they're less interested in following the rules. And the math is going to go much slower, and it will dry my daughter crazy because it's going to go that much slower,


Kim  29:19

Well, often because the reasons for sorting are not deeply mathematical.


Pam  29:23

No. No, because it's so much based on fake math.


Kim  29:26



Pam  29:27

So much based on. So, in that instance, I said, "You have put me as a parent in a place where I'm saying to you right now, 'Put my kid in that higher track' because I know the way you've just done this is not smart, and I don't want my kid in that quote, unquote, 'lower' track." And she smiled and said, "Fine." I mean, she knew me well enough that she didn't want to have the battle. And so, Abby went into the higher track and soared. Like, she was more than successful. She would have been successful everywhere we put her because she's that kind of person. But the point here is, you put parents in an extremely difficult position. So, stop doing it. Now, I make it sound like it's trivial. The other thing we cannot do is we can't do it on a dime. You can't just say, "Oh, okay. We've never done this before. Let's just instantly have teachers teach all the kids." I believe that science teacher that I talked to at that one school that it is harder to teach all the kids. Sure, it's easier when you have a group of compliant kids. Have you ever taught the group of kids that got sorted out in a stupid way that are less compliant? That's a pretty difficult place to be. For all the reasons. So, it's not trivial. Kim and I were just in a really nice session at NCSM, where there were two districts that were talking about some changes they've been making over years. And they're in a really nice place where teachers have been well trained, and they know how to differentiate naturally, and they can work with different learners. And because they are mathing in a bit in a better way, it all works better. So, we're not suggesting that you turn on a dime. But we wanted to have an episode where we raise the idea that if it was up to Kim and me, we would not track. We would train teachers, help teachers, build them to be able to math, really math with all kids.


Kim  31:28



Pam  31:28

Help them learn how to differentiate. And let's just be really clear, that having all kids in a classroom works so much better when we're teaching real math.


Kim  31:41



Pam  31:42

We would agree that if your school district, your teachers, your colleagues are stuck in fake math, yeah. That would be a much harder ask.


Kim  31:53

Yeah. I think what we would always suggest is, let's help teachers know their content, know their kids so well that they can appreciate the different perspectives and they can appreciate the different ways that kids approach problems, so that there's connections being made, and not just, "Here's the one right way. And if you can't follow along, there's something wrong with you." Not we need to change what's happening in the classroom.


Pam  32:19

Yeah, yeah. So, Kim, I'd like to end on a story that I have been thinking about a lot. So, we do these challenges. At least three times a year, we get on. It's totally free. We teach all the things. It's super fun. We often will have special guests. At one point, we had special guest that was my son. 


Kim  32:38



Pam  32:39

So, my son was in a scenario all through fifth grade, similar to what we just talked about, where it was... Similar, what we've talked about, in that when he was going into sixth grade, they were going to track kids.


Kim  32:50



Pam  32:51

But what was really unique was because he was my third, I had already been working with all the teachers at your school, his school you taught at for a while. And we were really getting some good mathing. And he had the best teachers. A.K.A he had Kim. And Monica Hittenhousen you are amazing. And some other really. Sarah Hempel. And who am I forgetting? 


Kim  33:15

I don't know. 


Pam  33:15

Stephanie Lugo. Yeah, I don't mean to forget. Excellent. I mean, he had amazing teachers.


Kim  33:20

Yeah, for sure. 


Pam  33:20

And because of that, he was in this place where all kids were learning, and all... Anyway, so here's what he said. You know, we said, "Hey..." Blah, blah, blah. He did some things on the challenge. And then, he goes, "Hey, I wonder, teachers, if you might find this interesting..." What he said that, I was like, "Oh, I hope this is going to be good." I had no idea what he was going to say." And he said, I wonder...


Kim  33:41

Everything Craig says is good. 


Pam  33:42

Yeah, he's so good. I said, "I wonder if you'd find it interesting..." And I had never heard him say this before. He said, "When I was in grade school, we were all learners. And I was in a classroom..." He said, "I was aware that I was a little quicker than some kids. But it didn't really matter because the way we were doing things, we were all learning from each other. And I was aware that we were all learning, and I could learn from all of my classmates. And then, we had this weird split. And all of a sudden, there were smart kids and dumb kids. And there were high kids and low kids. And we knew it." And he's like, "It was really weird because I had been in a place where I was really clear, I can learn from you. But then, this artificial split put us in this place where kids all of a sudden treated me different. And they were like, 'No, you're like smart, and I'm dumb.'" And nothing was that explicit, right? But it was this place where he goes, "It was really unfortunate because I would look at my classmates, and I would go, 'No, like, you're... Wow, that's so unfortunate that now you think you're less than when I know better. Huh.'" And as a kid, he knew that. Every person on the challenge just had their jaw open. Like, it's just like, "Whoa!" It was so interesting. 


Kim  34:55



Pam  34:56

So interesting. He was so clear that we all can math, but then they we're now in a system that says not all can.


Kim  35:03

Yeah. So, I guess if there's a takeaway from today. You know, we've told some stories and things about, you know, kind of what we believe about tracking, and maybe we've raised some wonders and thoughts for teachers. But I think the most important message is that Craig had been told for years that all kids could, and he was super clear on that. And I think that's a great message that he got over the years. And then, he moved on, and there was a system that he was put in where students were sorted. And it was basically sorted into kids who could and kids who couldn't. And I love that it bothered him because it should have. So, teachers, we hope that you are also creating an environment where all kids can and everyone knows it. And if your students are moving on to a tracking system, let them know that it does not mean that some students are better and some are not. I hope your students have the same uncomfortable feeling that Craig had. They should.


Pam  36:01

Nicely said. Ya'll, we know it's not trivial. We appreciate you listening to our stories today. And hopefully we've just given you some ideas to start working on as we all make math more figure-out-able for all. Thank you for tuning in and teaching more and more real math. To find out more about the Math is Figure-Out-Able movement, visit Let's keep spreading the word that Math is Figure-Out-Able!