Date of Award
Doctor of Education in Middle Grades Education - Mathematics (Ed.D)
Secondary and Middle Grades Education
Dr. Brian R. Lawler
Dr. Belinda Edwards
Dr. Binyao Zheng
Tracking, or segregating students into varying levels of a course based on their mathematical ability and prior performance, is truly a social justice issue as it perpetuates racial injustice, widens the income gap, and does not foster equality (Gamoran, 2016). This is even more prominent for students who are socio-economically disadvantaged or minoritized. Also, dividing students into a group by their academic ability may cause them to self-label as inferior to upper track students (Ansalone, 2004). In addition, many students who enter tracked systems end up staying there throughout the course of their academic career with no mobility to move within the system (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2018). Therefore, the study on the influence of tracking is relevant and needed to provide a deeper understanding of its impact on mathematical identity.
The purpose of this study was to examine the influence of tracking on the mathematical identity of adolescent students of color at a rural high school in Southwest Georgia. This qualitative case study, framed by Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory, was conducted over one semester, and involved students in varying tracks of an Algebra 1 course, as well as members of the high school community. Multiple data sources were examined, including interviews, a focus group, classroom observations, and a mathematical identity survey.
Students and community members discussed the context of learning mathematics. Findings revealed a hierarchal system used for decision making in which the state mandated End of Course examination is at the top. Decisions regarding course pacing and rigor are made based on desired results from the exam, which then influences student course placement, and finally mathematical identity. Although teachers desired the implementation of learning tasks which fostered conceptual understanding, timing to teach the standards for the exam took precedent. The End of Course examination influenced the pacing and rigor of the tracked courses which influenced the placement and classroom procedures for the students which in turn influenced the perceptions, motivation, and identity of the students at Bearcat High School. Additionally, student participants shared their thoughts from the results of their self-reported mathematical identity and observed mathematical identity. Their responses revealed the existence of a desired mathematical identity, also seen in the school’s math teachers. The implications and limitations of the study are discussed.