Skip to main content

Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

The Impact of Gender on Tracking in Education

The Impact of Gender on Tracking in Education

Student Name

Salt Lake Community College

In many school systems, a practice called tracking can be seen. “Tracking is the most commonly used term for ability grouping, the practice of lumping children together according to their talents in the classroom (Tracking, 2019).” This system puts students of similar academic levels in the same classrooms to allow for similar learning approaches and curriculum levels.

This system can be seen as limiting as academic levels are not the only factor in tracking. It has been shown that socio-economic class, race, and gender each play a role in tracking, whether a conscious choice or not. When gender is involved in tracking, it creates disadvantages for both male and female students and limits their scope of study.

It has been shown that gender tracking begins as early as kindergarten. In a Norwegian study performed by Meland and Kaltvedt (2017), they looked to see if the education system promoted traditional gender roles and how it affected the student’s educational path. They gathered information from kindergarten student teacher’s observations of gender patterns and looked at how student’s work reflected these patterns.

Their results showed that the staff in each kindergarten was more likely to comment on boy’s strength, motor skills, and size while girl’s were more likely to be told they were sweet or cute. Girls were also more encouraged than boys to show care towards others. This kindergarten staff was more inclined to give boys attention in the form of words, non-verbal communication, and body language. With regards to how student’s perceived gender, children were inclined to push boundaries. Boys were okay with using colors associated with girls such as pink and purple, and playing with toys associated with girls such as dolls. (Meland & Kaltvedt, 2017)

This study shows that the way children perceive gender and gender rules is not only affected by their views and the views of their family, but by outside influences such as teachers. This leads to later differences in education and career paths for girls and boys.

A review of gender tracking provided by the SAGE Encyclopedia of Psychology and Gender provided more insight on how these gender differences are manifested in secondary education. It has been shown that tracking is split between low-achieving students and high-achieving students as well as split by gender. The low-achieving students were placed into tracks that focused on vocational education, preparing students for trade-school based occupations rather than preparing for a four-year university. Despite being on the same track boys were encouraged to pursue trades such as masonry and auto mechanics while girls were encouraged to pursue cosmetology and child care (Tyson, 2017). This also leads to to a significant salary difference in males and females as the trades deemed masculine pay around twenty dollars per hour on average, while the trades deemed feminine made ten dollars an hour on average (Salary Comparison, Salary Survey, Search Wages).

Tracking in high-achieving students shows similar outcomes. Although the classes taken are gear towards helping students excel at a four year university, girls and boys are expected to perform better in different subjects. This entry states:

“ Boys are assumed to be interested in hard sciences such as mathematics, engineering, and physics. Girls . . . are expected to excel in the humanities and social sciences. There are two exceptions . . . History and biology are popular with male and female students, as nearly equal numbers of boys and girls go on to law school or medical school on completion of their undergraduate education. However, tracking still occurs in those professional school settings.” (Tyson, 2017, p. 765)

This is still significant as careers in mathematics, engineering, and physics also have higher salaries than those in humanities and social sciences. This pattern of tracking and gender division leads to gender pay differences further perpetuating gender social issues.

These results can also be verified by another study done by Kubitschek and Hallinan (1996). They studied ninth grade track placements of disaggregated by gender and race in math and English tracks. They found that females were more likely to be placed in higher English tracks, regardless of previous test scores. They also found that males were more likely to be placed in higher math tracks regardless of previous test scores. These findings correlate with those of Tyson and lead to the potential issues we see in higher education and job opportunity.

In a study conducted by Stephanie Southworth and Roslyn Arlin Mickelson, professors at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, they looked at how gender and race affects college track placement in high school. Their data was obtained from high school seniors in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district in 1997. Students were categorized by race and gender and 12th grade English placement was analyzed and compared to various factors including gender, race, socio-economic status, and previous academic achievement. English was chosen as it was a required class for the grade level, allowing for more participants.

Their findings show that both race and gender affect college-prep track placement. With regards to English placement, they found that white females were significantly more likely than white males to engage in college-prep placement. However, they found that black males and black females are significantly less likely to be in college-prep placement. These findings show that although gender is used in tracking, there are other factors to also be considered when researching this matter. (Southworth & Mickelson, 2007)

While reflecting on this research I also thought about my personal experiences in elementary and secondary education. From a young age I was given enrichment packets and placed in advanced math and reading classes as I was on a higher-achieving track. Looking back, I can remember being one of the few females in my math classes. I was also in many honors and advanced placement courses in high school that also tended to be male dominant, however, my social science classes were predominantly female. My own experiences show this research in my reality, and I feel that there is a drastic need for reform in the education system with regards to tracking.

These studies all work together to show that gender affects how students are placed and viewed academically. This issue leads into greater issues in adulthood such as feeling limited to a gender stereotyped role and occupation, gender wage gaps, and a more limited view as to what an individual can achieve. To resolve this, teachers need to be trained to spot their own biases and to work to eliminate gender bias in the classroom. Reforms to tracking systems should also be made to be more inclusive and to not limit opportunities based on gender. If these changes are made, society will see an increase in accomplishments and confidence in rising generations.

Works Cited

Jones, T. (2017). Gender Tracking in Education. The SAGE Encyclopedia of Psychology and Gender,765-766. doi:10.4135/9781483384269.n254

Kubitschek, Warren, and Maureen T Hallinan. 1996. “Race, Gender, and Inequality in Track Assignments.” Research in Sociology of Education and Socialization 11:121-46.

Meland, A. T., & Kaltvedt, E. H. (2017). Tracking gender in kindergarten. Early Child Development and Care,189(1), 94-103. doi:10.1080/03004430.2017.1302945

Salary Comparison, Salary Survey, Search Wages. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.payscale.com/

Southworth, S., & Mickelson, R. A. (2007). The Interactive Effects of Race, Gender and School Composition on College Track Placement. Social Forces,86(2), 497-523. doi:10.1093/sf/86.2.497

Tracking. (2019, February 21). Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/tracking/index.html

By accessing or using any part of this site, you agree to not download, copy, or otherwise plagiarize its contents in any way.

Salt Lake Community College

4600 South Redwood Road Salt Lake City, UT 84123
801-957-7522
Student Services hours: M - F : 7am -7pm
Enrollment Info: 801-957-4073 | contact@slcc.edu