Gaps between how minority students perform academically in comparison to their white peers have long been an issue across the country. The disparities often stem from larger structural issues — a lack of access to quality curricula, for instance, or teachers expecting students to perform poorly.

Recently, the gaps have worsened in the wake of the pandemic and its disruptions to learning.

Math scores for Black 13-year-olds had dropped by 13 points between the 2019-20 school year and the 2022-23 school year, shows the latest data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as the nation’s report card. White students had a six-point decrease between the three years.

As a result, the difference between Black and white students’ scores widened from 35 points in 2020 to 42 points in 2023.

Addressing those disparities is more critical than ever then, for both strengthening students’ understanding of math and increasing their opportunities to higher-paying jobs in STEM fields. And nearly a decade ago, Reed’s experiment with detracking showed some promise as an aid.

Step into any American school and you’ll most likely find tracked classes, especially for math.

Tracking students took root during the 20th century. Following immigration waves, desegregation orders and the inclusion of special education students in classes, tracking grew in use and separated those students deemed fit for higher learning at college from those who were viewed as less intelligent and only capable of learning a trade or craft, said Kevin Welner, an educational policy professor at the University of Colorado Boulder.

As a result, tracking reflected the country’s larger societal inequalities then and it continues to do so today given some students, often from marginalized backgrounds, come to kindergarten or first grade already with measured achievement gaps.

While offering students more support in a separate class may sound ideal, lower-level classes often linger on remediation and watered down curricula. That exacerbates opportunity and achievement gaps, Welner said.

Tracked systems are also fairly rigid, he added. Students placed in higher tracks have the flexibility to move down to a lower track if necessary, but few students in lower tracks have the opportunity to advance to the higher track.

Detracking, in theory, then aims to level the playing field by exposing students to the same higher concepts and standards.

Read the full article about racial gaps in math by Maura Turcotte at The Hechinger Report.