Social Psychology of Education

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 271–294 | Cite as

Curriculum tracking and teacher expectations: evidence from discrepant course taking models



In an effort to understand teacher-student relationships much research has investigated how teacher expectations of student performance in the classroom affect achievement growth. However, little research has focused on how teacher expectations of students’ educational attainment are formed. In this paper, we examine how students’ high school track placements affect teacher expectations regarding students’ educational attainment in the NELS data. NELS is a large, nationally representative longitudinal study from the United States of the graduating class of 1992. We focus on students with discrepant track placements to determine how different teachers evaluate the same student. Overall, for the same student, teachers in high track classes have higher college expectations than teachers in lower track classrooms.


Tracking Teacher expectations Social categorization Within-student models 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Abraham J. (1989) Testing Hargreaves’ and Lacey’s differentiation-polarization theory in a setted comprehensive. British Journal of Sociology 40: 46–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adelman, C. (1999). Answers in the toolbox: Academic intensity, attendance patterns, and bachelor’s degree attainment. U.S. Department of Education. ERIC Report Number PLLI-1999-1801.Google Scholar
  3. Adelman C. (2006) The toolbox revisited: Paths to completion from high school through college. Department of Education, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  4. Andrew, M., & Hauser, R. (in press). Adoption? Adaptation? Evaluating the formation of educational expectations. Social Forces.Google Scholar
  5. Attewell P. (2001) The winner-take-all high school: Organizational adaptations to educational stratification. Sociology of Education 74: 267–295CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Ball S. J. (1981) Beachside comprehensive: A case study of secondary schooling. Cambridge University Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
  7. Bandura A. (1977) Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review 84: 191–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Berends M. (1995) Educational stratification and students’ social bonding to school. British Journal of Sociology of Education 16: 327–351CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Broaded C. M. (1997) The limits and possibilities of tracking: Some evidence from Taiwan. Sociology of Education 70: 36–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brophy, J., & Good, T. L. (1974) [1983]. Teacher–student relationships: Causes and consequences. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.Google Scholar
  11. Carbonaro W. (2005) Tracking, students’ effort, and academic achievement. Sociology of Education 78: 27–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Caughlan S., Kelly S. (2004) Bridging methodological gaps: Instructional and institutional effects of tracking in two English classes. Research in the Teaching of English 39: 20–62Google Scholar
  13. Covington M. V. (1992) Making the grade: A self-worth perspective on motivation and school reform. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UKCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Davis J. A. (1966) The campus as a frog pond: An application of the theory of relative deprivation to career decisions of college men. American Journal of Sociology 72: 17–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dee T. (2005) A teacher like me: Does race, ethnicity, or gender matter?. American Economic Review 95: 158–165CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dee T. (2007) Teachers and gender gaps in student achievement. Journal of Human Resources 42: 528–554Google Scholar
  17. Dee T., West M. (2011) The non-cognitive returns to class size. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 33: 23–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Domina, T., & Saldana, J. (2012). Does raising the bar level the playing field? Mathematics curricular intensification and inequality in American high schools, 1982–2004. American Educational Research Journal. doi:10.3102/0002831211426347
  19. Dweck C. S., Leggett E. L. (1988) A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality. Psychological Review 95: 156–273CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Eckert P. (1989) Jocks and burnouts: Social categories and identity in the high school. Teachers College Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  21. Felmlee D., Eder D., Tsui W. (1985) Peer influence on classroom attention. Social Psychology Quarterly 48: 215–226CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Figlio, D. (2005). Names, expectations, and the black-white test score gap. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 11195.Google Scholar
  23. Gamoran A. (1987) The stratification of high school learning opportunities. Sociology of Education 60: 135–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gamoran A., Berends M. (1987) The effects of stratification in secondary schools: Synthesis of survey and ethnographic research. Review of Educational Research 57: 415–436Google Scholar
  25. Guo G., VanWey L. K. (1999) Sibship size and intellectual development: Is the relationship causal?. American Sociological Review 64: 169–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hallinan M., Williams R. A. (1990) Students’ characteristics and the peer-influence process. Sociology of Education 63: 122–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hargreaves D. H. (1967) Social relations in a secondary school. Routledge & Kegan Paul, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Jussim L., Harber K. D. (2005) Teacher expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies: Knowns and unknowns, resolved and unresolved controversies. Personality and Social Psychology Review 9: 131–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kelly S. (2004)   Do increased levels of parental involvement account for the social class difference in track placement?. Social Science Research 33: 626–659CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kelly S. (2007) The contours of tracking in North Carolina. The High School Journal 90: 15–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kelly S. (2008) What types of students’ efforts are rewarded with high marks?. Sociology of Education 81: 32–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kelly S. (2009a) Social identity theories and educational engagement. British Journal of Sociology of Education 30: 449–462CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kelly S. (2009b) The black-white gap in mathematics course taking. Sociology of Education 82: 47–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kelly, S., Covay, E. E. (2008). Curriculum tracking: Reviewing the evidence on a controversial but resilient educational policy. In T. Good (Ed.), 21st Century education (Vol. 2, pp. 401–409). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  35. Kelly S., Price H. (2009) Vocational education: A clean slate for disengaged students?. Social Science Research 38: 810–825CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kelly S., Price H. (2011) The correlates of tracking policy: Opportunity hoarding, status competition, or a technical-functional explanation?. American Educational Research Journal 48: 560–585CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kelly S., Turner J. (2009) Rethinking the effects of classroom activity structure on the engagement of low-achieving students. Teachers College Record 111: 1665–1692Google Scholar
  38. Lacey C. (1966) Some sociological concomitants of academic streaming in a grammar school. British Journal of Sociology 17: 245–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lareau, A. (1989) [2000]. Home advantage: Social class and parental intervention in elementary education. Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  40. LeTendre G., Hofer B., Shimizu H. (2003) What is tracking? Cultural expectations in the United States, Germany, and Japan. American Educational Research Journal 40: 43–89CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Long J. S. (1997) Regression models for categorical and limited dependent variables. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CAGoogle Scholar
  42. Lucas S. R. (1999) Tracking inequality: Stratification and mobility in American schools. Teachers College Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  43. Lucas S. R., Berends M. (2002) Sociodemographic diversity, correlated achievement, and de facto tracking. Sociology of Education 75: 328–348CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Marsh H. W., Seaton M., Trautwein U., Ludtke O., Hau K., O’Mara A. J. et al (2008) The big-fish-little-pond-effect stands up to critical scrutiny: Implications for theory, methodology, and future research. Educational Psychology Review 20: 319–350CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. McCullagh P. (1980) Regression models for ordinal data (with discussion). Journal of Royal Statistical Society 42: 109–142Google Scholar
  46. McFarland D. A. (2001) Student resistance: How the formal and informal organization of classrooms facilitates everyday forms of student defiance. American Journal of Sociology 107: 612–678CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Metz M. H. (1978) Classrooms and corridors: The crisis of authority in desegregated secondary schools. University of California Press, Berkeley, CAGoogle Scholar
  48. Mood C. (2010) Logistic regression: Why we cannot do what we think we can do, and what we can do about it. European Sociological Review 26: 67–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Nystrand M., Gamoran A. (1997) The big picture: Language and learning in hundreds of English lessons. In: Nystrand M. (eds) Opening dialogue. Teachers’ College Press, New York, pp 30–74Google Scholar
  50. Oakes J. (1985) Keeping track: How schools structure inequality. Yale University Press, New Haven, CTGoogle Scholar
  51. Pace J. L., Hemmings A. (2007) Understanding authority in classrooms: A review of theory, ideology, and research. Review of Educational Research 77: 4–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Page R. N. (1991) Lower-track classrooms: A curricular and cultural perspective. Teachers College Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  53. Pallas A. M., Entwisle D. R., Alexander K. L., Stluka M. F. (1994) Ability-group effects: Instructional, social, or institutional?. Sociology of Education 67: 27–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Raudenbush S. W., Bryk A. S. (2002) Hierarchical linear models: Applications and data analysis methods. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CAGoogle Scholar
  55. Riehl C., Sipple J. W. (1996) Making the most of time and talent: Secondary school organizational climates, teaching task environments, and teacher commitment. American Educational Research Journal 33: 873–901Google Scholar
  56. Riegle-Crumb C., Grodsky E. (2010) Racial-ethnic differences at the intersection of math course-taking and achievement. Sociology of Education 83: 248–270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Rosenbaum J. (2001) Beyond college for all: Career paths for the forgotten half. Russell Sage, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  58. Roeser R. W., Eccles J. S., Sameroff A. J. (2000) School as a context of early adolescents’ academic and social-emotional development: A summary of research findings. The Elementary School Journal 100: 443–471CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Roeser R. W., Strobel K. R., Quihuis G. (2002) Studying early adolescents’ academic motivation, Social-emotional functioning, and engagement in learning: Variable- and person-centered approaches. Anxiety, Stress and Coping 15: 345–368CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Ruble D. N., Frey K. S. (1987) Social comparison and self-evaluation in the classroom: Developmental changes in knowledge and function. In: Masters J. C., Smith W. P. (eds) Social comparison, social justice, and relative deprivation. Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ, pp 81–104Google Scholar
  61. Rudolph K. D., Lambert S. F., Clark A. G., Kurlakowsky K. D. (2001) Negotiating the transition to middle school: The role of self-regulatory processes. Child Development 72: 929–946CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Schneider B., Stevenson D. (1999) The ambitious generation: America’s teenagers, motivated but directionless. Yale University Press, New Haven, CTGoogle Scholar
  63. Schneider B., Swanson C. B., Riegle-Crumb C. (1998) Opportunities for learning: Course sequences and positional advantages. Social Psychology of Education 2: 25–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Seaton M., Marsh H. W., Craven R. G. (2010) Big-fish-little-pond effect: Generalizability and moderation—two sides of the same coin. American Educational Research Journal 47: 390–433CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Shernoff D. J., Csikszentmilhalyi M., Schneider B., Shernoff E. S. (2003) Student engagement in high school classrooms from the perspective of flow theory. School Psychology Quarterly 18: 158–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Skinner E. A., Wellborn J. G., Connell J. P. (1990) What it takes to do well in school and whether I’ve got it: A process model of perceived control and children’s engagement and achievement in school. Journal of Educational Psychology 82: 22–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Smith W. P., Davidson E. S., France A. (1987) Social comparison and achievement evaluation in children. In: Masters J. C., Smith W. P. (eds) Social comparison, social justice, and relative deprivation. Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ, pp 55–80Google Scholar
  68. Stevens P. A. J., Van Houtte M. (2011) Adapting to the system or the student? Exploring teacher adaptations to disadvantaged students in an English and a Belgian secondary school. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 33: 59–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Stipek D. J., MacIver D. (1989) Developmental change in children’s assessment of intellectual competence. Child Development 60: 521–538CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Valeski T. N., Stipek D. J. (2001) Young children’s feelings about school. Child Development 72: 1198–1213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Van Houtte M. (2004) Tracking effects on school achievement: A quantitative explanation in terms of the academic culture of school staff. American Journal of Education 110: 354–388CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Van Houtte M. (2006) School type and academic culture: Evidence for the differentiation-polarization theory. Journal of Curriculum Studies 38: 273–292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Van Houtte M., Stevens P. A. J. (2009) Study involvement of academic and vocational students: Does between-school tracking sharpen the difference?. American Educational Research Association 46: 943–973Google Scholar
  74. Van Houtte, M., & Van Maele, D. (2012). Students’ sense of belonging in technical/vocational schools versus academic schools: The mediating role of faculty trust in students. Teachers College Record, 114(7). ID number 16467
  75. Whitehead J. (1993) Sample size calculations for ordered categorical data. Statistics in Medicine 12: 2257–2271CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Administrative and Policy StudiesUniversity of Pittsburgh, 5902 Wesley W. Posvar HallPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA

Personalised recommendations