Re "The Bad Side of 'B-Tracks' Criticized," Dec. 8: Finally, some media attention to the disparities that exist in three-track, year-round high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The problems mentioned are real but are almost superficial in comparison with the major issue that failed to surface in the article. Track B students have unequal access to the curriculum and to graduation because of the placement of their intersession/remediation opportunities.
In traditional schools, students have their summers to repeat failed classes before beginning their next school year. On Tracks A and C, students may remediate after each semester. Any failed class can be retaken, and the student stays on track toward graduation.
Track B students never have such an opportunity. Their intersessions always lie in the middle of their semester. If they are failing Algebra I during their fall semester, they cannot repeat it during the fall intersession because they still have eight weeks to pull up their grades. Their spring semester, however, begins the Monday following the end of their fall semester, with no break between the two. They cannot continue with algebra in the spring, having failed the first semester, because the second semester requires the foundational material learned in the first half. The student is then programmed into some elective and begins the math sequence anew the following July. The same problem exists with foreign languages and chemistry.
Because of this unequal access to the high school curriculum, Track B students have lower graduation rates, and lower percentages of students meet the four-year college admissions requirements throughout the district. It is a travesty that has been perpetrated in the LAUSD for over 20 years.
Director, Project STEPS
I was disappointed, but not surprised, to learn that only two of the LAUSD's 44 magnet schools are on the discredited B-track. Ten years ago, several dedicated educators at Belmont High School created the International Studies Academy for highly motivated students. We purposely placed the program on the B-track to help counter the negative image attached to that track. When we applied to the district for our academy to become a magnet, we were refused. Deprived of the support that came with magnet status, the academy eventually perished. It was not the first time I had seen creativity and enthusiasm thwarted by the district's demoralizing bureaucracy, but it was the last. I took an early retirement in 1999.
Michael R. Thorpe
As a fourth-grade teacher in the LAUSD, I can tell you about students who are tracked long before high school or even middle school. The process begins in elementary school. At my school, students are tracked by their English-language development levels. The lowest ELD students are clustered together, along with those who have been held back. English-only and higher-achieving students are grouped in different classrooms. Students are rarely moved from their groups. This tracking starts as early as kindergarten, and it appears to continue throughout high school. There are many factors that contribute to low performance. I believe that this lack of academic diversity in the classroom is just one of them.