No Tracking in BUSD Middle Schools--Should I Be Concerned?

Our child is having a good experience in BUSD elementary schools.  Her teachers have done a good, though not great, job of differentiating in the classroom despite wildly disparate academic levels among the students.  I had been assuming that once she hit middle school that there would be some attempt by the school to group kids by ability or "track" as it was called when I was in school.  I was therefore surprised to find out recently that the BUSD middle schools don't track. In other words, what we have now in elementary school--with kids in the same class at vastly different achievement levels in reading and math--will continue into sixth, seventh and eighth grade.  There is apparently no advanced English or advanced math; everyone is in the same class.  I just don't see this experience being a good one for kids who are achieving above grade level, nor do I see it benefitting kids who are struggling.  I assume that teachers may try to differentiate but with over 100 students per day versus 25 or so, I imagine that those attempts will take the form of extra worksheets.  Am I worrying unnecessarily?  My child is a strong student and responds well to teachers setting high expectations.  She is not, however, self-motivated so I imagine that absent high expecatations, she will coast.  Are you a parent with middle schoolers who had similar concerns?  If so, what has your child's experience been like in middle school?  

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I share your concerns. I also think the new plan for 9th grade will only continue this same theme. I'll be curious to hear what other parents say.

My kids are still in elementary but I'm really sad to hear it as I too was hoping for more differentiation and advancement for the kids who are performing at a higher level (as we are spending a lot of time at home now on additional enrichment activities).  I went to a school without tracking (as you called it) and I hated it as school was so easy and repetitive.  Thankfully I was driven and did a lot of advanced self study and asked to do additional and more complicated projects and then in high school there were AP classes so it worked out well, but my sibling was coasting until my parents realized what was going on and put him in after school educational activities for additional challenge to keep him busy and out of trouble (He is very smart, also got straight A's, but was bored in school and that started causing issues with more challenging academic after school activities took care of).  If you can afford it, maybe after school enrichment activities would help, or if not, then do something at home or ask the teach for more challenging projects you can do at home and supervise.  Looking forward to more comments and advice on the topic. 

I was a young teacher when Berkeley began voluntary school desegregation in 1968. Commonly, classes had had three reading groups, and two math groups, which was satisfactory in neighborhood schools. My colleagues and I were concerned, as was the district, about teaching the wide disparity in achievement levels when bussing began.  Professor's kids and doctors kid's sat side-by-side with project kids and the kids of auto mechanics. (Berkeley at that time had a working class community.) Unlike the suburban school I attended as a youngster in New York State, Berkeley Schools did not track.    There was some "white flight" to the suburbs, and some parents who feared their kids would be bored or fall behind. The test results of my sixth grade that year spanned from second grade level to twelfth grade level.  The administration focused on team teaching within each grade level, with five reading groups and five math groups. It will be interesting to read the other responses to learn what is being done fifty years later.

Hello - We're in BUSD. From the start my child has been very high-achieving but shy and often passive. Our elementary school experience was wildly uneven, with 4th and 5th grade being particularly disappointing. I was worried about middle school, but from the start he's been challenged and engaged at Willard Middle School. His writing, history and math assignments and projects have been sufficiently complex and interesting. He has become more socially engaged by participating on two teams, joining orchestra and loving different cooking classes. He has become friends with kids on a broad spectrum of race and economic backgrounds. Do I wish I could send my child to some private school, where he'd be even more challenged? Yes. But lacking a dumptruck full of money, I feel like he is getting a good education with BUSD. I also note that you will get responses to this question, like mine, where parents want to justify their decision to themselves. Responses from private school parents will make a good case for their choice. We all have to trust that we'll never truly know the answer -- we each must do the best we can. It will work out!

I'm on the other side of this -- child doing well in an Ivy. Most of the teachers are aware of your student's level and will make assignments that work for a wide range of students. Middle school was sometimes boring, especially when the school put too much emphasis on "skills" and not enough on projects. High school was mostly better. I don't know what will happen with the new 9th grade program. I just asked my student if they wished there had been more tracking in high school and they said, "No, less." (My student was in honors math a couple of years and IB classes.) Being in class with a wide spectrum of students was positive for them, and they are very aware of the narrow group of people at an elite college. In terms of achievement, reading for pleasure, doing puzzles and self-motivation does matter, as well as family enrichment.

I am very pleased with my child's experience at King, where he is a 7th grader. He doesn't bring home a lot of homework. There is no tracking. He says in English, History and his elective (STEAM) he gets more stimulating instruction. His English/History teacher, who demands a lot of all his students, is amazing (intellectually stimulating, passionate about teaching, and kind). My son says he sometimes has different goals for different kids. They just completed a free choice project. My son just wrote a 1600 word essay on addiction. Some kids spent 6 hours writing screenplays then made films in class on their iPads. In Math yesterday, they studied probabilities and data collection. In Science yesterday they built Rube Goldberg machines. In STEAM he is making a wallet out of duct tape, after just finishing building a carousel out of Legos. In his 2 years, the highlights for my son have been cooking and gardening (they had an Iron Chef competition on Tuesday) and cross country/track. And playing tag at recess. I expect a highlight next year to be an 8th grade trip to DC with the Close Up DC middle school program. Any student who is working hard can go, regardless of ability to pay. This year the school raised $45,000 to help students who needed it finance their trip. 70 percent of students had some financial support.
I am very proud of this BUSD school and feel so lucky my son gets to go here.
Good luck making your decision.

Believe me, this is one of the great things about Berkeley middle schools.   There are a lot of other ways for your kids to explore themselves by getting involved in student government, the school newspaper, the drama club, sports, etc.  You can also require some supplemental reading at home (condition some privileges on it).  (My kids went to Willard.)  But this will be one of the last times school will be about everyone succeeding together.  Once they get to high school, it gets pretty starkly segregated.  I persuaded my kids to do IB and they wish they'd been more in the mix with the whole school population.  

I am a parent in the WCCUSD with an advanced 4th grader and watching this kind of discussion closely. Our local jr high (Korematsu) just announced it was ending tracking in English, even while continuing it in math. FWIW, I discussed this with a friend who is an English teacher at a local high school, who has been through a few different cycles of tracking/not tracking in the early high school years. Her feeling is that mixed is better for the students, IF the teacher is geared up for it. I would suggest discussing your specific issues with your school's teachers, who know both your child & the teachers lying ahead. Again, this is all specific to English, not math.