Another positive aspect of tracking is that since it separates students by ability, students’ work is only compared to that of similar-ability peers, preventing a possible lowering of their self-esteem that could result from comparisons with the work of higher ability students, or inflating the egos of the high-ability students when compared to low-ability, same-age students. Since high self-esteem is correlated with high academic achievement, tracking should, theoretically, promote academic success for low-ability students.
Supporters of tracking also note that it allows for higher achievement of high-ability students. Kulik and Kulik (1992) found that high-ability students in tracked classes achieved more highly than similar-ability students in non-tracked classes. In another study, Argys, Rees, and Brewer (1996) found that high-track students’ achievement dropped when lower-ability students were integrated into the same class. Both of these studies suggest that tracking is beneficial to high-track students. Tracking can also encourage low-ability students to participate in class since tracking separates them from intimidation of the high-ability students. Some supporters of tracking also view tracking as an effective means of allocation since it helps direct students into specific areas of the labor market.
Low-track classes tend to be primarily composed of low-income students, usually minorities, while upper-track classes are usually dominated by students from socioeconomically successful groups. Jeannie Oakes theorizes that the disproportionate placement of poor and minority students into low tracks does not reflect their actual learning abilities. In addition to the unequal placement of students into tracks, there is evidence to support the assertion that the appointment of teachers to classes is disproportionate. The most-experienced, highest-status teachers are often assigned to teach high-track classes, whereas less-experienced teachers are usually assigned to low-track classes. Teachers of the high-track courses were found to be more enthusiastic in teaching, better at providing explanations, and more organized than teachers of low-track courses. Scholars have also found that curricula often vary widely among tracks, as might be expected. Lessons taught in low-track classes often lack the engagement and comprehensiveness of the high-track lessons, reflecting their more remedial nature. This can put low-track students at a disadvantage for college acceptance because they often do not gain the knowledge and skills of the upper-track students, presuming they could and would if not taught under a tracked system. Oakes (1985) found that in high-track classes, teachers often used course materials and taught concepts which required extensive critical-thinking skills, whereas teachers in low-track classes tended to draw heavily from workbooks and rarely assign work that required critical thinking. In general, curricula of high-track courses are much more intensive and in-depth than those of low-track courses, as would be expected.
Some studies suggest that tracking can influence students’ peer groups and attitudes regarding other students. Gamoran’s study (1992) shows that students are more likely to form friendships with other students in the same tracks than students outside of their tracks. Since low-class and minority students are overrepresented in low tracks with Whites and Asians generally dominating high tracks, interaction among these groups can be discouraged by tracking.
Tracking can also result in a stigmatization of low-track students. In some cases, this stigmatization is thought to have a negative impact on students’ academic performance and to influence students’ attitudes. In one study, it was found that, among low-achieving students, students in tracked classes were more likely than students in non-tracked classes to believe that “their fate was out of their hands.”