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Abstract

Academic tracking is common in American schools. While the impact of this practice on students is well documented, few studies closely examine the influence of teacher decision-making on students’ academic trajectories. This article discusses a study examining how teachers recommend students for high- and low-track academic classes. Specific attention is paid to data collected through participant analysis of hypothetical vignettes. This unique methodology was specifically designed to illuminate the dynamics shaping participants’ decision-making process. The key finding of this study is that participants experienced high levels of autonomy when making recommendations. This autonomy, however, did not emanate from recognition of their expertise or familiarity with students’ academic capabilities; rather, it resulted from ill-defined expectations, poor communication among teachers, and a lack of clear administrative policies. The analysis of data led to findings that are divided into five distinct but interrelated themes.

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