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Volume 13, Number 1
January/February 1997

Making Detracking Work

Successful detracking means paying careful attention to the process as well as improving content and instruction


In 1985 Sue Galletti was a first-time principal assigned to a school serving 650 students in grades 6 though 8 in a small, upscale community near Seattle. A long-standing pull-out program for gifted and talented students called for the selection of 25 seventh-graders each year to take part in an enriched curriculum built around a three-period "humanities block" taught by a popular and respected teacher. "The same students were usually placed in the only algebra section, and in band," Galletti recalls. They also took a no-credit foreign language class at the local high school each morning before the middle school day began, riding from one campus to the other on a special bus. "They were essentially together for most of the day," she says.

Students were chosen for the prestigious program based on IQ scores, performance on standardized tests, and teacher recommendations. Competition was tough. There were always more bright, capable students who wanted to be included than there were spaces to fill. "Some of the students who weren't picked would cry," Galletti says. "They would feel so ostracized because they couldn't take part. And that just destroyed me." That's what convinced her that the program had to go.

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