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The practice of “tracking” gifted students in advanced curriculum has historically been considered an effective way of further promoting their academic development. However, a new policy brief issued by the Rappaport Institute for Great Boston at Harvard Kennedy School provides a more nuanced view of the benefits of such programs.
“The Long-Run Impacts of Tracking High-Achieving Students,” provides a detailed analysis of the Advanced Work Class (AWC) program in the Boston Public Schools (BPS). The program tracks students in the fourth through sixth grades who score highly on standardized tests during the third grade. The study compared cohorts of students who scored just above the threshold for admission to the program with those who scored just below the threshold.
“The analysis shows that AWC has very little effect on short-term outcomes, as measured by the standardized test scores,” writes policy brief author Sarah Cohodes PhD 2015. “However, AWC has a positive effect on long-term outcomes, increasing Algebra 1 enrollment by eighth grade, AP exam taking, especially in calculus, and college enrollment. College enrollment increases are particularly large for elite institutions, as one year of AWC attendance triples the rate of matriculation at a ‘most competitive’ university. AWC also has large positive effects on high school graduation for minority students.”
One surprising result may be the finding that AWC, which was established to help counteract the decline in the number of students in BPS, actually does not affect enrollment.
“AWC does not influence enrollment at Boston exam schools, which are three magnet schools for high-achievers that also admit students based on test scores,” Cohodes concludes. “This may be because a large majority of students are applying to an exam school anyway or because effects on enrollment occur away from the test score cutoff. These results mean that AWC does not achieve its goals of keeping families in the district or increasing the number of BPS seats at exam schools.”
"The Advanced Work Class program has a positive effect on long-term outcomes, increasing Algebra 1 enrollment by 8th grade, AP exam taking, especially in calculus, and college enrollment," writes Sarah Cohodes.