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Making Decisions about Academic Trajectories: A Qualitative Study of Social Studies Teachers' Course Recommendation Practices Open Access

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Tracking students into classes according to academic capability is a common practice in American schools. While the impact of ability grouping on the lives of teachers and students is well documented, few studies pay specific attention to the influence teachers have on students' academic trajectories. Through a case study of three social studies teachers working in one public high school, this research examines dynamics central to the course recommendation process. Jeannie Oakes' (1992) model for effective de-tracking, which situates the conceptual framework, is used to draw attention to the technical, political, and normative dynamics shaping how teachers recommend academic placement. Survey, interviews, participant analysis of hypothetical vignettes, and document analysis led to the conclusion that participants encountered a high level 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, and a lack of clear administrative policies.

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