Leadership Studies Ed.D. Dissertations


Student Experiences of Participation in Tracked Classes Throughout High School: The Ethic of Justice, School Leadership, and Curriculum Design

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Patrick Pauken


While school leaders negotiate changing governmental mandates, tracking continues as the most implemented curriculum delivery model in American schools (Lovelace, 1999). There is a growing disconnect between governmental pushes toward a similar educational bar for all students and tracking, which encourages student achievement at fluctuating levels. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to reveal the experience of tracking for graduating high school seniors. Tracking is defined as dividing students into class levels for low, medium, and high achievers in each grade (Oakes & Lipton, 1994). A philosophical background demonstrated how the ethic of justice spectrum—the balance between the good of society and individual rights (Starratt, 1991)—applied to curriculum design. The impact of tracking on students’ school experiences was addressed. The six participants engaged in this study ranged all track levels. The research questions were (1) How do 12th grade students describe their experience in tracked classes in high school?, (2) How does the essence of tracking impact 12th graders’ high school experiences?, and (3) How are students’ tracking experiences represented on the ethic of justice spectrum? An existing Method of Analysis of Phenomenological Data was used to analyze and code the data (Moustakas, 1994). The thinking processes behind data transformation were highlighted. The participants overwhelmingly supported tracking. Their experiences revealed five themes: (1) appropriateness of placement, (2) student effort and perceived teacher effort, (3) similarity of instructional methods, (4) social influence of peers and family, and (5) view of others: students in different track levels and school leaders. Tracking met the needs of participants according to individual ability levels. Tracking found its place on the ethic of justice spectrum toward the individual, nonconsequential end and away from utilitarian notions. The participants supported continued tracking practices but cited trusted, respected teachers as more influential than school principals or the tracking design itself. School leaders were reminded that, from students’ perspectives, tracking is the preferred curriculum design. The ethic of justice was proven a useful evaluation tool of school policy and programming. Administrators were reminded to promote ventures that seek student input in decision-making activities and to uphold justice in schools by respecting students’ individual rights.