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Tracking and sense of futility: the impact of between-school tracking versus within-school tracking in secondary education in Flanders (Belgium)

  • Van Houtte, Mieke
  • Stevens, Peter
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2015
Ghent University Institutional Archive
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It has been established since the 1960s that tracking yields negative consequences for students in lower tracks. As this research has been carried out mainly in the USA and UK, the effects of tracking have been demonstrated in systems of within-school tracking mostly. However, in many European countriessuch as Belgium (Flanders)tracking is commonly organised between schools. The question then arises whether the specific system of tracking, within-school vs between-school tracking, might affect the impact of tracking on students. Although in Flanders between-school tracking is the norm, there are a number of schools offering a combination of academic tracks with technical and/or vocational tracks, allowing for a comparison of both systems. The present study investigates whether the association between feelings of futility and the specific track a student is enrolled in depends upon whether these tracks are organised between or within schools. Three-level multilevel analyses (HLM6) of 11,872 3rd- and 5th-grade students clustered in 146 tracks in a representative sample of 85 secondary schools in Flanders are carried out based on the Flemish Educational Assessment (FlEA) data gathered in 2004-2005. Within-school tracking appears to have a slightly greater impact on the association between track position and sense of futility. So, lower-track students who are directly confronted with higher-track students in the same school seem more likely to lose their faith in a meritocratic system, as they put luck above working hard or above merit.

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