Closing the Achievement Gaps Bibliography
The gaps in school achievement among racial/ethnic groups and economic groups are persistent and well-documented. This annotated bibliography provides a range of research publications and other resources on characteristics of achievement gaps and on closing the achievement gaps. It includes annotations on the following 10 topics related to closing achievement gaps:
- Review of achievement gap data/race and ethnicity
- Special education
- Early childhood education
- Academic supports and interventions
- English language learners
- School climate/student engagement and self-concept
- Culturally responsive practices
- Discipline policy
- School resources/access to advanced coursework
- Teacher quality and experience
Contributory factors to the achievement gaps are made evident in the readings contained in each of the 10 broad topics. The document is organized so topic categories can stand alone or can be used in conjunction with research contained in the other topic categories. Some readings could fit into more than one category given the complexity of closing the achievement gaps.
Review of Achievement Gap Data Race and Ethnicity
Barton, P. E., & Coley, R. J. (2009). Parsing the achievement gap II. Princeton, NJ: Policy Evaluation and Research Center, Policy Information Center, Educational Testing Service. Retrieved fromhttp://www.ets.org/Media/Research/pdf/PICPARSINGII.pdf
This report is an update and expansion of the 2003 ETS Policy Information Report, Parsing the Achievement Gap: Baselines for Tracking Progress. A few of the gaps in the correlates of achievement have become a bit narrower in some instances and a bit wider in others, but the gaps identified in the earlier report remain apparent and disturbing. Overall, there is little change. The correlates are best viewed as three clusters: school factors, factors related to the home and school connection, and factors that are present both before and beyond school.
Within the parameters of school factors, academic progress has shown growth among all racial and ethnic groups. However, African-American students still experience challenges with the Advanced Placement program. Additionally, access to instructional technology has improved slightly despite limited access to technology services in minority and low-income schools. There has been no change in the gap for teacher preparation and safety in schools. The report found a lack of certified teachers remains in core curricula classes such as mathematics. The gap has widened between white and Hispanic teachers, and the numbers of inexperienced teachers have increased, along with increased class sizes. Researchers also found that turnover and teacher absences in minority and low-income schools have seen little change. The report further disclosed that the gap for parent participation has lessened for involvement in school events, but has remained unchanged for volunteering within schools.
Other factors that have seen little to no change are the high mobility rate of minority students, nutrition for white and African-American students (Hispanic students narrowed the gap), early literacy for babies and toddlers, and lack of two-parent homes.
Ferguson, R. F., Hackman, S., Hanna, R., & Ballantine, A. (2008). Raising achievement and closing gaps in whole school systems: Recent advances in research and practice (2008 Conference Report). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Achievement Gap Initiative. Retrieved from
How can school boards, superintendents, and their staffs work toward excellence with equity in whole-school systems, not just in a few exemplary schools? Teams of researchers and practitioners from universities, think tanks, and public school systems gave their answers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education on June 16 and 17, 2008. The occasion was the fourth annual research-to-practice conference of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University. Prominent researchers and practitioners discussed and debated strategies for raising achievement levels among all types of students while narrowing gaps between groups. The central theme emerging from the conference was that knowledgeable and inspired leadership in schools and districts—relentlessly focused on aligning all functions toward the goal of improving classroom instruction—is the key to raising achievement and closing gaps. Presenters and discussants agreed on the central importance of instruction as well as many of the key strategic conditions that leaders need to cultivate.
The leaders of this conference collaborated and discussed innovative ideas and strategies that would enhance comprehensive school reform and ultimately close the achievement gap. They emphasized the importance of instruction and how professional development for teachers effectively empowers teachers and enhances learning. They examined data from various school districts for research to back their assertions for what is needed for school improvement. Most conference participants held the same general consensus on the means for closing the achievement gap: the use of data , strong support and focus for schools and instruction; family and community and engagement; and alignment of school improvement plans with the districts’ visions.
Hemphill, F. C., & Vanneman, A. (2011). Achievement gaps: How Hispanic and white students in public schools perform in mathematics and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NCES 2011-459). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from
The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) developed a statistical analysis report concerning the growing achievement gap between Latino and white students in public schools across the country. Latino students are the fastest growing segment of the student population in the United States, and a substantial number of them are English language learners. The report contains longitudinal data acquired from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) as well as analyzed fourth- and eighth-grade scores from 1992 to 2009 for white and Latino students. Although scores for Latino students in national reading and math assessments have increased in the last decade, white students have had significantly higher scores on average across all assessments. The study sample included students from each state in the nation, and sampling weights were used to account for the fact that the probabilities of selection were not identical for all students. These weights included adjustments for school and student nonresponse. Scores in reading and math were included for the report. Scores for both Latino and white students increased during the time period measured; however, the achievement gap between both groups also increased. NAEP data also revealed an average gap in scores between Latino and white students of 21 points in mathematics scores for fourth-grade students and 26 points for eighth-grade students. In reading, the average gap in scores was 25 points for fourth-grade students and 24 points for eighth-grade students.
Kober, N. (2001). It takes more than testing: Closing the achievement gap. Washington, DC: Center on Education Policy.
This report provides educational practitioners information concerning the educational achievement gap, its causal factors, and strategies for reducing it. Kobe analyzed results from National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data, in addition to a review of student test scores from college entrance exams. Results of the quantitative analysis conveyed that in science at age 9, the African American-white score gap is 41points, roughly a difference of almost four grade levels. For Latinos, the gap is 34 points, which represents an approximate difference of three grade levels. In terms of college entrance exams, there was a difference of 123 points in composite math scores between African-American students and white students on the SAT. Latino students scored an average of 18.9 on the ACT exam, and white students scored an average of 21.8. The author concluded that the achievement gap appeared to widen for students as they matriculated through school, a phenomenon that could be possibly explained through summer learning loss. Curriculum and course-taking patterns, teacher expectations, and resource disparities were identified as significant factors. Recommendations for improvement include reduced class sizes, extended learning sessions, and increased professional development opportunities for instructors.
Lee, J., & Wong, K. (2004). The impact of accountability on racial and socioeconomic equity: Considering both school resources and achievement outcomes. American Educational Research Journal, 41(4), 797−832.Lee and Wong designed a multidimensional, mixed-methods study to investigate how high-stakes testing policies and academic accountability models hinder or enhance educational equity. One portion of this study was conducted by using survey data from three sources on state accountability policies and rating all 50 state accountability systems as strong, moderate, or weak. Sources of the data included the North Central Regional Education Laboratory (NCREL) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the Quality Counts (QR) report, and the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) report. Another dimension of the study created three measures of allocated school resources and then measured those present against the accountability systems determined for each state. Researchers sought to determine the relationship between school resources and accountability policies at the state level and, further, the impact that these related factors had on student achievement in terms of math scores.
The mixed-methods analysis of state accountability systems revealed that overall policies were regulatory or bureaucratic in nature, dealing with mandates and sanctions rather than being designed to be supportive and build capacity. Researchers found that state accountability policies did not produce a negative effect in widening the achievement gap for low-income students in terms of math scores, and did not have a significant impact in decreasing it in some states. In addition, state accountability policies did not bring about gains in the school resources, including reduced class size, per-pupil expenditures, and qualified teachers. The authors suggest that the proper balance between state and federal accountability mandates and the allocation of needed support are necessary to significantly reduce inequities in school.
Orfield, G., Losen, D., Wald, J., & Swanson, C. (2004). Losing our future: How minority youth are being left behind by the graduation rate crisis. Cambridge, MA: The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, The Urban Institute, Advocates for Children of New York, & The Civil Society Institute.
The national high school graduation rate is an estimated 68 percent of those students entering ninth grade graduating with a diploma in 12th grade. Graduation rates for most minority groups, especially males, are appreciably lower. The authors state that current methods of reporting graduation rates are misleading. The report uses a method of calculating graduation rates, the Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI) developed by the Urban Institute, to look at dropout rates at the state and district levels. The authors contend that this method of reporting, which examines data as students progress at each grade level, provides the most complete portrait of graduation rates across the country and will bring needed attention, in specific areas, to the national crisis. CPI provides information about the grade level where students are experiencing the most difficulty in their path toward graduation. Data from 12 states are reviewed as the report attempts to answer three questions: 1) How deep and widespread are racial disparities in graduation rates at the state and district levels? 2) How has the current method of reporting obscured the magnitude of the problem? 3) Have provisions of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act improved the situation?
The report makes seven recommendations specific to reporting and accountability of graduation rates. First, the authors call for accurate and public reporting of graduation rates, with data disaggregated for subgroups. Second, states should institute longitudinal tracking of individual students. Third, states should use the CPI for calculating graduation rates for accountability measures for NCLB. Fourth, accountability systems must be more rigorous and incentives to eliminate students with low test scores should be removed. There should be an emphasis on graduation rates. Fifth, disaggregated data for graduation rates should be part of NCLB reporting. Sixth, keeping students in school must be incentivized through intervention programs. Finally, the graduation rates of black, Native American, and Latino males must be researched to identify proactive measures to address a problem in need of immediate attention.
Artiles, A. J., Harry, B., Reschly, D. J., & Chinn, P. C. (2002). Over-identification of students of color in special education: A critical overview. Multicultural Perspectives, 4(1), 3–10.
The article presents information about the overrepresentation of students of color in special education programs, reviews the history and magnitude of the problem, and examines factors contributing to the problem. As early as 1968, the problem was identified through survey data related to special education placement collected by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Although there is a heightened awareness of the problem, litigation, and monitoring by OCR, there has been little change in the degree of overrepresentation as measured by the percentage of special education enrollment comprising minority groups or the percentage of a minority groups enrolled in special education. Each method of measurement provides a partial picture of the issue.
The authors contend that multiple factors contribute to overrepresentation of students of color in special education. Poverty contributes to problems ranging from preterm births to inadequate medical care. School funding, available resources, and school quality also may contribute to overrepresentation because inequalities in each affect what happens in the classroom. Qualifications of personnel may be linked to overrepresentation of minority students in special education, but the link has not been firmly established. Since teachers initiate most special education referrals, cultural incongruence between teachers and students also may contribute to the problem. In addition, assessments used for placement are not always adequate for culturally diverse groups. Suggestions to help ameliorate the problem include focusing on assessment instruments, supporting inexperienced teachers in providing interventions, preservice preparation and ongoing professional development related to student diversity.
Harry, B., & Klingner, J. (2007). Discarding the deficit model. Educational Leadership, 64(5), 16−21.
The authors looked at the special education placement process for black and Hispanic students in a large urban school district in a southeastern US state. The 12 elementary schools involved represented a range of ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, and rates of special education placement. On the basis of data they gathered from classroom observations, school-based conferences, interviews with school personnel and family members, and examination of student documents (such as individualized education programs, behavioral referrals, and evaluation reports), they found that several conditions seriously marred the placement process. These included lack of adequate classroom instruction prior to the students’ referral, inconsistencies in policy implementation, and arbitrary referrals and assessment decisions. It was also clear that students in poor neighborhoods were at risk of receiving poor schooling, which increased their risk of failing and of being placed in special education.
The response-to-intervention model holds promise for preventing academic failure. It also provides support for culturally and linguistically diverse students before they underachieve. Educators are becoming increasingly aware that they need to apply the model in culturally responsive ways. This might mean considering whether suggested instructional interventions have proven effective with all students, including English language learners. Also, educators should avoid a one-size-fits-all approach because culturally diverse students or English language learners may require different tier-one or tier-two interventions. Legislation regarding intervention services also calls for increased and specific efforts to include parents in all phases of the placement process.
Kosiewicz , H. (2008). Achievement gap between disabled and nondisabled students. Bethesda, MD: Editorial Projects in Education.
Since the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 2002, lawmakers have devoted particular attention to educational conditions concerning students with disabilities. Current research has conveyed that, given the appropriate curriculum and tailored instruction, students with disabilities can thrive in academic settings. These needed resources for students have become increasingly scarce as a growing achievement gap has developed between students with disabilities and students without them. Kosiewicz gathered National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data to compare the reading performance of 12th grade students with disabilities to those without disabilities. Results revealed that only 5 percent of disabled students scored at or above proficiency compared with 36 percent of non-disabled students. The majority of students with disabilities in the study (73 percent) tested below the required proficiency level. Kosiewicz’s research revealed that variations were seen contingent upon what type of disability students faced. For example, students with dyslexia and hearing impairments tested at a higher level than students with other disabilities. The author suggests that increased individual instruction and specialized curriculum are needed to help close the achievement gap for students with disabilities.
Early Childhood Education
Aikens, N. L., & Barbarin, O. A. (2008). Socioeconomic differences in reading trajectories: The contribution of family, neighborhood, and school contexts. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100(2), 235–251.
The longitudinal study of early childhood examines multiple factors that contribute to children’s early reading from kindergarten through third grade. Specifically, the authors look at the impact of family, school, and neighborhood factors and how these factors account for the impact of socioeconomic status (SES) on early reading achievement. Family factors (home literacy environment, number of books owned, level of parent distress, and receipt of center-based care) had the largest influence on reading disparities in kindergarten. The authors conclude that interventions including reducing parental stress, improving the literacy environment in the home, and center-based care prior to kindergarten can be mediating factors in the effects of low SES on reading achievement. As students advanced in age and grade, neighborhood and school factors were more prominent contributors than family influences. Of particular note related to the school environment was the number of peers reading below grade level and the number of peers from low SES families. The authors conclude that if the reading achievement gap between children of low SES and high SES is to be eliminated, results will be more likely if interventions provide a multidimensional response to the multiple determinants of reading achievement.
Committee on Early Childhood Mathematics, Cross, C., Woods, T., & Schweingruber, H. (Eds.) (2009). Mathematics Learning in Early Childhood: Paths Toward Excellence and Equity. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
The report by the Committee on Early Childhood Mathematics summarizes the literature on teaching and learning of mathematics in early childhood. The report aims to spawn a movement in early mathematics akin to what has taken place in early literacy over the past 15 years. The committee found that children’s early mathematics potential is marginally realized, and that this is especially true for economically disadvantaged children. Research reveals that children must learn numbers (whole-number operations and relations) and geometry, spatial thinking, and measurement if they are to succeed in mathematics. However, many early childhood mathematics experiences do not include high-quality curricula or instruction geared toward these areas. Often, mathematics curricula and instruction are embedded in other subjects and not explicitly taught. Also, teachers in the early grades often give mathematics instruction short shrift when compared to literacy instruction or attending to the students’ social-emotional development. This is especially noteworthy for children who come from low-income homes, where the mathematics achievement gap is pronounced before students enter school and continues or widens as students progress in their schooling. Finally, the committee found that even though practices to improve children’s early mathematics learning have been isolated, these practices are not widely known or readily implemented by practitioners.
The committee makes recommendations to improve teaching and learning of early childhood mathematics for all children aged three to six. Mathematics experience in early childhood should focus on numbers, geometry, spatial relations and measurements, with increased time spent on teaching high quality curricula and instruction. State mathematics standards should reflect skills in these areas. Early childhood educators should receive ongoing professional development in mathematics instruction and how to implement their curriculum. At the preservice stage, early childhood educators should receive training that reflects an emphasis on teaching mathematics, specifically numbers, geometry, spatial relations and measurement. Family and community partnerships should be forged that focus on early childhood mathematics. Finally, resources to support acquisition of early childhood mathematics skills should be readily available for use in homes, libraries, community centers and other public places.
Cooper, J., & Schleser, R. (2006). Closing the achievement gap: Examining the role of cognitive developmental level in academic achievement. Early Childhood Education Journal, 33(5), 301–306.
A large achievement gap in math scores exists between African-American and white students. Information from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) revealed that white students consistently outperformed African-American students in each of the nine testing periods over the last 30 years regardless of the age of students in the sample. Cooper and Schleser conducted quantitative research to assess the cognitive developmental levels of African-American and white students in kindergarten and first grade, and the impact that cognitive developmental level had on math achievement.
A total of 56 elementary school students from a suburb of Chicago participated in the study. Forty of the students were white, and 16 were African American. Mathematics skills of these students were assessed using the Woodcock-Johnson tests of achievement, and cognitive developmental level was assessed through two conservation of numbers tasks and one conservation of subject task. African-American students scored significantly lower than white students on the test of mathematical achievement, but after controlling for cognitive developmental level, the achievement gap between the two groups became statistically indistinguishable. This suggests that cognitive developmental level mediates the relationship between ethnicity and mathematic achievement. Cooper and Schleser assert that creating additional opportunities for early childhood learning of mathematics would help to close the achievement gap.
Fryer, R. G., & Levitt, S. D. (2004). Understanding the black-white test score gap in the first two years of school. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 86(2), 447–464.
Fryer and Levitt (2004) gathered data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study to examine the achievement gap between African-American and white students during early childhood. The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study sampled more than 20,000 students who are just entering kindergarten, representing 1,000 schools. Results from the study revealed that a significant achievement gap does not exist between black and white students who are just entering kindergarten. The authors analyzed subjective assessments of students’ math and reading achievement. In many cases, they found scores were similar for African-American and white students across multiple assessments. As students advance through school, disparities begin to increase. One possible reason for this trend is that a higher number of African-American students attend schools that do not meet state academic standards. Fryer and Levitt suggest that increasing the availability and quality of early childhood educational services could help to decrease the achievement gap in later years.
Musti-Rao, S., & Cartledge, G. (2007). Delivering what urban readers need. Educational Leadership, 65(2), 56–61.
The importance of early identification of urban learners who are at risk for reading problems cannot be overstated. Reading is a survival skill, and the failure to read during the elementary school years reduces a person's chances of success in school and life. Educators often emphasize creating “literacy-rich” environments in which children learn to read as a result of being exposed to and enjoying the written word. The problem for underperforming readers is that these indirect approaches are predicated on a set of readiness skills that most of these students lack.
The authors have found that the following strategies enable teachers to intervene early in ways that reach urban students with reading problems: balanced reading instruction; early identification of at-risk learners; supplemental instruction through second grade; active student responding; small-group instruction; regular monitoring of reading achievement; peer-mediated activities; positive, nonexclusionary classroom management practices; and parental involvement. All these strategies can, and should, be applied in culturally responsive ways.
Academic Supports and Interventions
Alexander, K. L., Entwisle, D. R., & Olson, L. S. (2001). Schools, achievement, and inequality: A seasonal perspective. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 23(2), 171–191.Summer learning loss may contribute to widening the achievement gap between students from affluent backgrounds, who tend to benefit from summer enrichment programs, and economically disadvantaged students, who are less likely to be exposed to learning opportunities during the summer. Entwisle and Olson utilized descriptive analyses and a hierarchal linear within-person growth model to measure the potential impact of summer learning loss across students of varying socioeconomic backgrounds. For this study, a random sample of 790 kindergarten and first-grade students from Baltimore City Public Schools was utilized to determine whether students experienced more or less summer learning loss based on race and socioeconomic status. Quantitative analyses revealed that during the summer, more affluent children’s academic skills continue to advance (although at a slower rate than during the school year), but economically disadvantaged children’s learning gains, on average, fell flat.
Balfanz, R., & Byrnes, V. (2006). Closing the mathematics achievement gap in high-poverty middle schools: Enablers and constraints. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 11(2), 143–159.
This article focuses on the growing achievement gap in mathematics scores for high-poverty school districts with high concentrations of minority students. Numerous studies—including one conducted by the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century—have claimed that most students enter kindergarten with a basic knowledge of math, but between Grades 5 and 8 the achievement gap develops the most rapidly for low-income, minority students. Many factors contribute to the development of this achievement gap, including shortages of skilled teachers, lack or rigorous curriculum, and unequal access to learning activities.
For this study, three cohorts of fifth- through eighth-grade students in large, urban, high-poverty, minority-dominated schools were chosen to participate. Researchers studied what type of reform efforts had the greatest impact in enhancing students’ progress in math scores. Using quantitative analysis, a binary logic regression model, the researchers found that students’ levels of self-confidence and individual effort were important factors in determining academic improvement. In addition, the findings demonstrated that whole-school reforms, focusing on shifting classroom practices, and providing teacher trainings had significantly greater impact on raising student scores than any other reforms included in this study, such as individual tutoring or changing curriculums.
Basch, C. E. (2011). Healthier students are better learners: High-quality, strategically planned, and effectively coordinated school health programs must be a fundamental mission of schools to help close the achievement gap. Journal of School Health, 81(10), 650–662.
Many educators and policymakers have devised theories and programs aimed at closing the achievement gap. An area of focus often overlooked is health disparities. Research has suggested that there is a potential positive correlation between student health and academic outcomes. Visual problems, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, and asthma are among the health issues that impact children age 18 or younger. Budgetary concerns in many school districts have caused the removal of physical education courses and athletic programs. Basch conducted a review of current literature on adolescent health issues to develop a priority agenda for using health programs to help close the achievement gap. Results from the literature review concluded that school health efforts should be integrated into accountability measures and policy mandates. Basch also suggests that colleges of education should incorporate health topics into preparatory programs for teachers, and that highly structured topical teacher professional development opportunities should be more readily available.
Borman, G. D., Hewes, G. M., Overman, L. T., & Brown, S. (2003). Comprehensive school reform and student achievement: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 73(2), 125–230.
Comprehensive school reform (CSR) efforts are often utilized as a strategy for closing the achievement gap. Schools implementing CSR designs are often characterized by high poverty rates, high levels of racial segregation, and a significant number of students performing below grade level. Borman et al. analyzed 29 models of CSR to assess which components of CSR design lead to positive student outcomes.
For inclusion in this study, CSR designs had to have been implemented by an external entity, analyzed in a previous study, implemented as a whole-school reform effort, and replicated in at least 10 other schools. Data analyses revealed that schools that implemented CSR models for five years or more showed particularly strong effects that were consistent across schools of varying poverty levels. Evaluations conducted by developers or by third-party evaluators and the use of one-group pre-post designs or control groups were identified as important factors for understanding differences in CSR effects. The authors also found that CSR schools, on average, could be expected to score one eighth of a standard deviation higher on achievement tests than non-CSR schools. Because the method of resource reallocation allows high-poverty schools to implement reform models at little or no extra cost, the authors believed that CSR could serve a very cost-effective strategy for closing the achievement gap.
Burton, L. J., & VanHeest, J. L. (2007). The importance of physical activity in closing the achievement gap. Quest, 59(2), 212–218.
In addition to the educational disparities faced by low-income and minority youth compared with their white peers, significant health disparities exist as well. A disproportionate number of minority children are overweight and obese. Research also has shown that physical activity has been linked to cognitive performance for adolescents. This literature review focuses on the links between obesity and academic achievement for minority youth and the importance of physical activity in addressing these issues to help close the achievement gap.
Burton and VanHeest reviewed current literature that links physical activity and fitness levels to academic achievement. Their meta-analysis of current literature concerning the correlation between physical activity and cognitive performance revealed that public physical activity facilities (youth organizations, parks, YMCAs, and schools) are unequally distributed toward higher income, small minority communities. The authors also determined that minority children spend more time watching television and playing video games than white children. Based on data acquired from the meta-analysis, Burton and VanHeest concluded that the greatest cognitive benefits gained through physical activity were apparent for elementary and middle school children. As a result, they suggested that increased opportunities for physical activity should be available for students at the elementary and middle school grade levels as a strategy for closing the achievement gap.
Cooper, L. A. (2007). Why closing the research-practice gap is critical to closing student achievement gaps. Theory Into Practice, 46(4), 317–324.
Cooper suggests that the individuals who conduct educational studies do not, at times, apply the information they obtain to directly working with students. His article focuses on the Minority Student Achievement Network, (MASN) and how it utilized survey data from research in middle and high schools to help close the achievement gap in its school districts. MASN comprises a group of superintendents from school districts across the country. Their mission is to close the achievement gap for African American and Latino students and also to close the gap between educational research and practice. MASN has adopted a multitude of research-based practices to help achieve these endeavors.
In 2000, MASN surveyed 40,000 students in Grades 6–12 using the Ed-Excel Assessment of Secondary School Students that gathered information including family characteristics, student attitudes about school and achievement, and conditions under which students work hard. The information gathered from this survey was used to shape the program design MASN offered to students. Based on information acquired from the survey, MASN developed a project called the AYD Initiative that was designed to create a comprehensive approach to algebra for ninth-grade students who have previously struggled with mathematics. The program focused on implementing a strong curricular, instructional and assessment design approach to mathematics as well as the social and psychological factors that impact student learning. An evaluation of the summer pilot program for AYD revealed that the intervention reduced anxiety and prepared students to use positive self-testing strategies. Cooper suggests that increased and more effective usage of evaluation and assessment tools should serve as an important educational reform strategy.
Dobbie, W., & Fryer, R. G. (2009). Are high quality schools enough to close the achievement gap? Evidence from a social experiment in Harlem (NBER Working Paper No. 15473). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.
Many researchers have argued that the achievement gap between low-income minority students and their more affluent peers stems from a lack of access to high-quality academic resources. In testing this theory, Dobbie and Fryer analyze the Harlem Children’s Zone, a 97-block area in Central Harlem, New York City, that offers a combination of charter schools and community services designed toward providing positive academic and behavioral outcomes for students. Their research sought to examine the impact that children receiving an education at Harlem Children’s Zone schools had on closing the achievement gap. The charter schools, designed as part of the Harlem Children’s Zone, operate on a lottery system. Students who were accepted into the Harlem Children’s Zone schools served as part of the treatment group, and students who did not successfully win the lottery represented the control group. Quantitative data were analyzed from the 2003–04 school year and the 2008–09 school year to gather an indication of changes over time. Administrative data from the New York City Department of Education also were collected to determine differences in educational outcomes for children attending Harlem Children’s Zone schools and those who were not. Dobbie and Fryer found that among elementary school students, placement in Harlem Children’s Zone schools decreased the achievement gap by one-half for reading and completely for math.
Donlevy, J. (2002). Closing the achievement gap: Plausible solutions, multiple dimensions. International Journal of Instructional Media, 29(2), 143.
With the dramatic changes in teaching and learning made possible by computer-based learning tools, educational advocates see more equitable distribution of technology as essential for narrowing the achievement gap. Donlevy conducted a literature review of studies concerning the use of educational technology in urban classrooms. Based on information acquired from the literature review, he suggests that the usage of updated technology by itself is not enough to bring about comprehensive school reform. Donlevy theorizes that closing the achievement gap requires addressing both academic and technological standards. Test score differences by themselves do not fully describe discrepancies in instructional programs and inequalities concerning the technological resources available to students. Even if new technology is put in place, training mechanisms are needed so that teachers can effectively implement instructional strategies with students. Donlevy also suggests that students must believe that the technological approaches to learning that they are taught will ultimately help them succeed in the future. Many students feel that school ultimately has no bearing on their future success. Economic conditions are also mentioned. Donlevy proposes that a lack of access to educational technology tools in students’ homes can cause learning loss.
Green, L., Blasik , K., Hartshorn, K., & Shatten-Jones, E. (2000). Closing the achievement gap in science: A program to encourage minority and female students to participate and succeed. ERS Spectrum, 18(2), 3–13.
In an effort to curb plummeting science scores on state achievement, the Broward County Department of Education in Florida developed a Saturday Science program. The program serves eighth-grade students in Broward County and provides training in computer technology, math, and science. The program utilizes experiential and cooperative learning activities to engage students. Minority professionals across various science fields participate as mentors for students. In addition, Saturday Science is aimed at getting minority and female students to pursue careers in science and technology. In a comprehensive evaluation of this program, Green et al. inspected the impact of the program by comparing the GPA of students within the program to those who were not enrolled in Saturday Science. Their research found that participation in the program increased minority and female student GPAs and enrollment in nonintroductory science classes, and that these types of programs could serve to boost science scores for female and minority students. >
Haycock, K. (2001). Closing the achievement gap. Educational Leadership, 58(6), 6–11.
Katie Haycock presents an analysis of past educational reforms which reveals that substantial progress has occurred toward closing the achievement gap for students. Between 1970 and 1988, the achievement gap between Latino and white students decreased by one third. The gap between African-American students and white students during that time period was cut in half. After 1988, the progress began to decrease, and achievement gaps began to rise to their current levels. Through quantitative analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics and the National Assessment of Education Progress, Haycock emphasized educational reforms that were successful during 1970 and 1988 and also could be utilized as effective reform strategies today. Haycock believes there is a need for clear and revised benchmarks for where students should be academically as they matriculate through school. She also argues for developing a more challenging curriculum for students, increasing teacher quality, and providing individualized attention to students.
Lee, J. (2002). Racial and ethnic achievement gap trends: Reversing the progress toward equity. Educational Researcher, 31(1), 3–12.
Identifying and developing strategies for closing the achievement gap have been a significant topic of interest of education policy and research. According to Lee, the levels of disparity have fluctuated widely in the past 30 years. The author conducted a literature review and data analysis to determine key factors that have led to the diverging patterns. Data from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) and Educational Testing Service are used to measure the changes in achievement gap trends over the last 30 years, and information gathered from the literature review is used to determine factors that have contributed to the changing rates. Lee’s review of NAEP data reveals a reduction in the achievement gap between African-American students and white students during the 1970s and 1980s. There was also a reduction in the gap between Latino students and white students. Lee contends that the reduction of the achievement gap in the 1970s and 1980s, as compared with its current rate, can be partially explained by educational policy. Situational factors such as more demanding academic standards and more rigorous curriculum have been put in place; however, increased resources to help all students meet these new educational demands have not. Lee also suggests that increased dropout rates and increased segregation in schools are factors that should be addressed in order to close achievement gaps.
May, H., & Supovitz, J. A. (2006). Capturing the cumulative effects of school reform: An 11-year study of the impacts of America’s Choice on student achievement. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 28(3), 231–257. May and Supovitz conducted a longitudinal quasi-experimental impact evaluation of the implementation of the America’s Choice comprehensive school reform (CSR) design on student learning gains in Rochester, New York. The researchers attempted to gauge the annual gains in test performance of students attending America’s Choice schools to those of students attending other Rochester schools and to those students attending America's Choice schools before they adopted the CSR model. America’s Choice School Design is a K–12 CSR model developed by the National Center on Education and the Economy. The intervention focuses on raising student achievement by implementing a rigorous curriculum and increasing student support services. Data were collected from the 1992–93 school year through the 2002–03 school year, capturing test data for students in Grades 1–8 representing 42 elementary schools and eight middle schools. To measure progress, standardized test score data were acquired in the areas of reading and mathematics. In addition to student academic data, demographic data were collected for each student, including age, race or ethnicity, poverty status, special education status, and limited English proficiency status. The total sample included data for 56,693 students in reading and 55,932 students in mathematics, with four or more years of data available for approximately 50 percent of the students and seven or eight years of data available for more than 6,000 students. No single student held data for all 11 years of the study.
During the 11-year span, Rochester Public Schools utilized a variety of testing mechanisms. To account for these differences over time, the achievement scores from the different tests were rescaled to the same metric on a vertical scale. (e.g., a 100-point scale versus a 500-point scale). Results from the quantitative study indicated that, overall, students attending America’s Choice schools in Rochester experienced significantly greater annual gains in both reading and mathematics performance than did similar students in other schools in the district even after adjusting for demographic differences. Results also revealed that the impact of CSR seems to be larger in the later grades than in the early grades, which May and Supovitz theorize could stem from more powerful programmatic influences in later grades. The authors attribute student success through the CSR model to the approach from which students are taught. The CSR model works to treat students as individual learners who are members of a classroom community, rather than members of a homogeneous group. The researchers suggest that strong district support is a critical factor in the success of whole-school reform and also toward closing the achievement gap.
McGee, G. (2003, April). Closing Illinois’ achievement gap: Lessons from the "golden spike" high poverty high performing schools. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago.
In the state of Illinois, the growing achievement gap remains one of the most significant issues in education. Major disparities remain between schools serving low-income students versus schools that serve a more advantaged population. This study utilized qualitative and quantitative research to analyze Illinois schools that have been successful in closing the achievement gap and the commonalities that exist among them. To identify schools for the sample, McGee established a strict set of criteria. Schools had to have a population of at least 50 percent low-income students (as defined by eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch). Schools also had to have at least a 66 percent total score across English, Science, and Mathematics on the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) and display an overall improvement of at least 10 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards on the ISAT. Applying these criteria yielded a total of 59 “Golden Spike” schools that were included in the sample. McGee conducted interviews and gathered data from each of the schools to determine commonalities that were predictors of achievement. Among the common factors that the author found in the “Golden Spike” schools were an emphasis on early literacy, an internal capacity for accountability, extensive parental involvement, and attention to the health and safety needs of students. Nogeura, P. A. (2005). School reform and second generation discrimination: Toward the development of bias-free and equitable schools. Sage Journal Race Relations, 30(3).
Public schools traditionally have been viewed as societal equalizers. The author distinguishes between equity of opportunity to learn and equal outcomes, stating that we have not achieved equity in either area. Second-generation discrimination refers to issues of inequity that have been present since the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. Second-generation discrimination manifests itself through the practice of tracking, labeling, and sorting of students through testing and inequitable disciplinary practices. The author notes there will be no equal outcomes in education until needs of poor children are met, community partnerships are forged and realized, and sources of inequity are acknowledged.
Toldson, I. A. (2008). Breaking Barriers: Plotting the Path to Academic Success for School-age African-American Males. Washington, DC: Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. Retrieved from
The research presented in this report elevates the discussion of African-American males’ engagement in schools and suggests policy solutions to improve their level of academic success. Contributors to this report have been careful to focus findings on meaningful solutions rather than recapping problems. The statistical findings in the report plot a path to academic success for black males rather than cast a spotlight on their failures. Policymakers, school administrators, advocates and activists, educators, researchers, parents, and students can use the report to enhance the educational experiences of school-age African-American males.
English Language Learners
Callahan, R. M. (2005). Tracking and high school English learners: Limiting opportunity to learn. American Educational Research Journal, 42(2), 305–328.
Instructional quality is extremely important for English language learners (ELLs) who because of obstacles with learning the English language, are often placed in low-track classes or even, in some cases, special education classes. Taking into account demographic variables such as students’ previous schooling and length in U.S. schools, Callahan investigated the impact of track placement and English proficiency on secondary English learners’ academic achievement. Data were collected from 355 ELL students enrolled in a large high school in California who represented the school’s entire ELL population. Academic achievement was measured by GPA, credits earned, and scores on standardized tests. Callahan found that across a variety of academic outcomes, track placement was a better predictor of achievement than language proficiency. Long-term ELLs had significantly lower GPAs than recent immigrants, and years enrolled in U.S. schools was found to relate negatively with GPA. Callahan suggested that the lower GPAs achieved by long-term ELL students were not due to their individual academic deficiencies, but rather a result of a lack of quality in content-area instruction. Academic achievement can be partly attributed to access to academic content, and Callahan reported that 98 percent of the students in the sample had not enrolled in the coursework necessary for entrance to a four-year college. Callahan theorizes that educators should devote additional instructional time and increase access to college-preparatory curriculum in an effort to enhance educational outcomes for ELLs.
Gersten, R., Baker, S. K., Shanahan, T., Linan-Thompson, S., Collins, P., & Scarcella, R. (2007). Effective literacy and English language instruction for English learners in the elementary grades: A practice guide (NCEE 2007-4011). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. Retrieved from
The goal of this Practice Guide is to formulate specific and coherent evidence-based recommendations for use by educators addressing a multifaceted challenge that lacks developed or evaluated packaged approaches. The challenge is effective literacy instruction for English learners in the elementary grades. At one level, the target audience is a broad spectrum of school practitioners: administrators, curriculum specialists, coaches, staff development specialists, and teachers. At another level, a more specific objective is to reach district-level administrators with a guide that will help them develop practice and policy options for their schools. This Practice Guide includes specific recommendations for district administrators and indicates the quality of the evidence that supports these recommendations. The expectation is that a superintendent or curriculum director could use this guide to help make decisions about policy involving literacy instruction for English learners in the elementary grades. For example, the publication includes recommendations on curriculum selection, sensible assessments for monitoring progress, and reasonable expectations for student achievement and growth. The guide provides practical and coherent information on critical topics related to literacy instruction for English learners.
Leon, A., Villares, E., Brigman, G., Webb, L., & Peluso, P. (2011). Closing the achievement gap of Latina/Latino students: A school counseling response. Counseling Outcome Research and Evaluation, 2(1), 73–86.
Latino/Latina students compose the fastest growing K–12 student group in the United States. According to data collected from the National Educational Longitudinal Study, a large percentage of these students are subject to at-home risk factors that could stifle their educational development, including living in poverty, being raised in a single-parent household, and being born to teenage mothers. Within-school risk factors also are present, including inadequate early childhood literacy opportunities, low teacher expectations, and a lack of qualified teachers available to effectively teach English language learners (ELLs). Leon et al. utilized the Spanish Cultural Translation of the Student Skills Success (SCT-SSS) classroom program to assess its potential impact on Latino/Latina ELL students in three elementary schools in South Florida. The primary focus was determining the impact that a counselor-led school intervention program would have on student academic achievement.
This research included 62 treatment-group students and 94 control-group students. Each school’s study involved the SCT-SSS intervention, math and reading scores, at least one treatment and comparison group, and a certified school counselor. Students included in the study were in in Grades 4, 5, 6, 8, and 9. SCT-SSS is a counselor-led program that focuses on teaching students the critical cognitive, social, and self-management skills necessary for educational development. For this study, two bilingual counselors were trained under the guidance of school counselors from various countries in South America who had extensive experience in working with ELL populations. Results of the study revealed that math and reading scores (as measured by standardized tests) significantly improved for students in the treatment group who participated in the program compared with students in the control group who had no participation. The authors suggest that counseling interventions should be tailored to the needs of individual schools, but that increased use of counseling services could be a successful strategy for closing the achievement gap.
School Climate - Student Engagement/Self-concept
Becker, B. E., & Luthar, S. S. (2002). Social-emotional factors affecting achievement outcomes among disadvantaged students: Closing the achievement gap. Educational Psychologist, 37(4), 197−214.
Many of the proposed remedies designed to close the achievement gap among disadvantaged students focus on academic interventions, improving teacher quality, or expanding resources available to students. Becker and Luthar argue that increased efforts need to be directed toward the developmental needs of students as a means for improving academic achievement and closing the achievement gap. The researchers conducted a literature review focusing on studies that utilized ecological models to document social-emotional factors at multiple levels of influence that undermine academic performance. More than 100 articles were analyzed to develop a comprehensive and interdisciplinary model intended to inform policymakers, administrators, and schools about the social-emotional conditions that serve as both risk and protective factors for disadvantaged students’ learning and opportunities for academic success. Becker and Luthar utilized the ecological/transactional model, focusing on the environment and the several co-occurring levels within an individual’s environment interacting to influence development. Using this model, this study aims to understand the multiple contexts affecting disadvantaged children’s achievement performance. The researchers identified four social-emotional factors directly associated with academic achievement. For instance, teacher support was identified as a critical factor toward school achievement that was not adequately present in many large urban school districts. Peer values were identified as another factor, as many students do not achieve toward their full capacity as a result of the peer group. Mental health also plays a significant role in students’ academic development, as many schools lack necessary resources to provide mental health services for youth. Finally, academic and school attachment was identified as a positive factor. Many students were reported to feel disengaged from their school environment.
Campbell, C., & Brigman, G. (2005). Closing the achievement gap: A structured approach to group counseling. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 30(1), 67−82.
Many school districts lack appropriate counseling services and school counselors for students to utilize. Campbell and Brigman evaluated the impact of a counseling intervention on students’ social and academic performance. A student success skills model that focuses on cultivating students’ academic, social and self-management skills was developed as the counseling intervention. Twenty-five school counselors were trained to administer the intervention to fifth- and sixth-grade students in a Florida school. A total of 480 students were included in the study, 60 percent of who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Half of the students were placed into a treatment group, which received the counseling intervention, and half were placed into a control group that received no structured counseling services. A pretest and posttest design was used, analyzing students’ math and reading scores on the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test, as well as the School Social Behavior Scales assessment. Students placed in the treatment group scored significantly higher than students in the control group in both math and reading. Sixty-nine percent of students in the treatment group improved their initial scores in the behavior assessment. The authors suggest that increasing the availability of counseling services for students in an academic capacity could serve as a useful strategy to help close the achievement gap.
Gottfried, M. (2009). Excused vs. unexcused: How student absences in elementary school affect academic achievement. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 31(4), 392−415.
Gottfried focuses on the classified types of school absences, excused versus unexcused, and the potential impact that they have on school performance. Longitudinal data were gathered from the years 1994−2001, which encompassed 97,007 students representing the entire elementary school population of the city of Philadelphia. A total of 201 schools were included in the study. Gottfried’s quantitative analysis found that students who had a majority of their absences classified as excused performed better on standardized tests than students whose majority of absences were unexcused. Gottfried also theorized that students who have excessive amounts of unexcused absences are at risk sociologically and may suffer from negative home environments. In order to help close the achievement gap, Gottfried suggested that schools experiencing truancy issues should consider developing student-level psychological measures to yield greater insight into what may drive absence behavior.
LaRoque, M., Kleiman, I., & Darling, S. M. (2011). Parental involvement: The missing link in school achievement. Preventing School Failure, 55(3), 115–122.
With the increasing demands that educators and school districts face, securing parental involvement is an important tool for closing the achievement gap. Laroque, Kleiman and Darling conducted a meta-analysis of current literature to determine common barriers to school involvement for parents, and strategies schools should undertake to incorporate families’ cultural experiences as a basis for learning. To be included in the meta-analysis, schools had to have established programs that measured parental participation rates and defined outcomes by which to measure success. Through the analysis, the authors identified common barriers to parental involvement referenced in the literature. Cultural differences, language barriers, transportation barriers, and work conflicts were among the hindrances to participation. The authors state that schools must be cognizant of changing family dynamics when addressing parental participation. The meta-analysis revealed that in many large urban school districts, a majority of students are raised in single-parent households or, in some cases, by other family members entirely. Despite the identified barriers to parental involvement, the authors found that they did not impact parents’ actual desire to participate. In order to overcome obstacles to parental participation, the authors suggest that schools establish parental involvement committees, provide professional development in communication skills necessary to work with families, and create support networks for parents to work collaboratively with each other.
Noguera, P. A. (2002). Understanding the link between racial identity and academic achievement and creating schools where that link can be broken. Sage Race Relations Abstracts, Institute of Race Relations, 27(3), 5–15.
The article provides historical context for the relationship between race, class and school performance. It reviews different theories for the differences in achievement, the most recent concerning the influence of cultural influences on academic achievement. However, cultural differences do not offer a complete explanation, because they fail to account for students who deviate from established cultural patterns of achievement. The author reminds readers that schools are intended to be societal equalizers, and that the will to sever the link between academic achievement and racial status must be cultivated.
The author identifies conditions that appear to eliminate the differences in academic achievement among subgroups. The attitudes and beliefs of educators are of paramount importance to successful students and schools. High levels of academic achievement for all students are possible only when educators believe all students can achieve at the same levels. Additionally, improving achievement for all students requires schools to be deliberate in their efforts to educate all. This includes monitoring of effectiveness, modifying programs as needed, intervening early with students making inadequate progress, forging partnerships with parents, and aligning programs to the same academic outcomes.
Wiggan, G. (2008). From opposition to engagement: Lessons from high achieving African American students. The Urban Review, 40(4), 317–349.
Influential research on African-American students has examined their school failure in terms of students’ opposition to school achievement. Only a few studies have explored school engagement and success among these students, and even fewer have examined the experiences of high-achieving black students. This study illustrates the school context and school processes that high-achieving African-American students identify as contributing to their academic success. The findings reveal three main school effects impacting the students’ performance: (1) teacher practices, engaging pedagogy versus disengaging pedagogy; (2) participation in extracurricular activities; and (3) the state scholarship as a performance incentive. According to the students, teacher practices were the most instrumental school effect benefiting their outcomes. Recognizing the processes that promote high achievement among African-American students can help to improve our understanding of student performance while promoting success among these students.
Culturally Responsive Practices
Boykin, A. W., Coleman, S. T., Lilja, A. J., & Tyler, K. M. (2004). Building on children’s cultural assets in simulated classroom performance environments: Research vistas in the communal learning paradigm (Report No. 68). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk. Retrieved from
The achievement gap between low-income African-American students and their white counterparts remains substantial. To address this, researchers have begun to examine the impact of culture on cognitive performance among African-American students. Their findings suggest that when aspects of students’ home culture are incorporated into academic learning contexts, strong academic performance and motivation result. This report presents the results of two experimental studies incorporating the cultural theme of communalism. For both studies, a general literature review is provided, along with statistical analyses and results specific to the procedures and measures used in each.
Chambers, T. (2009). The “receivement gap”: School tracking policies and the fallacy of the “achievement gap.” The Journal of Negro Education, 78(4), 417−431.
This article examines the achievement gap and its implications between racial and ethnic groups. Chambers devotes specific attention to the term achievement gap and suggests that the term itself implies that certain students (typically white or Asian students) perform better on standardized tests because of greater effort and/or individual capabilities than minority students (typically African American or Latino) do. The author argues that receivement gap would be a more appropriate term, as it focuses on the systemic forces that promote educational disparities rather than individual student efforts.
A case study was conducted with seven African-American high school students who participated in a school tracking program in a Midwestern metropolitan suburb. Two students were from a high track (as indicated by placement in AP courses), three students were from a low-track group (as indicated by placement in alternative education classes), and two students had no involvement in AP classes or alternative education programs. Results from the study indicated that only students in the high-track group felt as if they had received educational encouragement and support. Students from the lower track group as well as the students who had no involvement in AP classes or alternative education programs reported feeling ostracized and unsupported. For consideration, Chambers offers the idea that other indicators aside from achievement scores provide valuable information and glimpses into our educational system and should be used to examine gaps in student performance. Chambers also suggests that in order to close the achievement gap, increased attention should be devoted to structures rather than individual students, and inputs instead of outputs.
Flaxman, E. (2003). Closing the achievement gap: Two views from current research. New York: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education.
Current studies illustrate a growing achieving gap for minority students in suburban middle-income communities, particularly at higher achievement levels. Flaxman analyzed two studies: the Ferguson Study of the Minority Student Achievement Network (MASN) and the Ogbu Ethnographic Study that focused on different strategies for closing the achievement gap. Researchers at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University analyzed data collected by MASN, a group of 15 middle- and upper-middle-income districts throughout the nation. The study found that white and Asian students came to school with more of the educational resources identified with higher academic status (e.g., books and computers) than their African-American and Latino peers, and they appeared more academically engaged. Ogbu’s ethnographic study followed students across all grade levels in schools in the suburban area of Shaker Heights, Ohio. He found that, compared with all other student groups, African-American students were far less likely to perceive schooling as a preparation for future job success and felt disparaged and misrepresented in the community despite the appearance of racial harmony. Both researchers agreed that students perform better and are more engaged in school if they are helped to modify parts of their collective identity that reject school success, through caring individual and institutional practices. There also were differences in the views of the researchers: Ogbu claimed that minority students do not participate in the opportunity structure of the United States because they have identified with their oppressed and marginal position in American society, and Ferguson argued that schools need to develop interventions that improve minority students’ capacity to master the learning tasks of the classroom through academic encouragement.
Hedges, L. V., & Nowell, A. (1999). Changes in the black-white gap in achievement test scores. Sociology of Education, 72(2), 111−135.
Researchers Hedges and Nowell conducted research to ascertain how much of the existing achievement gap can be attributed to socioeconomic factors. Data were collected from several national probability samples of adolescents who were in their last year of high school during the 1965−96 academic year, including the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth data set and the Equality of Educational Opportunity data set. Hedges and Nowell looked at the differences in scores on achievement tests between African-American and white high school seniors, compared the size of the achievement gap, and then adjusted the statistics for social class, family structures, and other community variables. When the quantitative analyses were conducted, the differences were smaller but still substantial—meaning that although improvements have been made in closing the achievement gap for low-income and minority students, significant disparities remain. Hedges and Nowell also found that differences at the top of the achievement distribution do not appear to be changing over time. The authors suggest that school districts should take on increased efforts to close the achievement gap that include family and community engagement.
Schellenberg, R., & Grothaus, T. (2009). Promoting cultural responsiveness and closing the achievement gap with standards blending. Professional School Counseling, 12(6), 440–449.
Researchers Schellenberg and Grothaus have investigated the use of standards blending as a culturally responsive strategy to assist in closing the achievement gap. The authors define standards blending as the integration of core academic and school counseling standards that can be used as a systems support and a responsive service mechanism. Six third-grade African-American males from a large elementary school in the southeastern United States were selected to participate in the study. A total of 52 percent of all students at the school were African American, and 40 percent of all students’ parents or guardians served in a branch of the military. Participants were selected by teachers at the school and were identified as having low self-esteem, behavioral issues, and struggling academically in language arts and math. In terms of academic content, math and language pacing guides were used to ensure that the school counselor was reinforcing content in and not teaching new mathematical and language arts concepts. The group met four times per week for 30-minute sessions during the school year; a six-item, multiple-choice questionnaire reflecting the standards-based curriculum content was administered by a school counselor before and after each session. Items on the questionnaire reflected language arts competencies, mathematics curriculum competencies, and school counseling curriculum competencies, highlighting self-esteem reinforced by accessing cultural awareness and pride. This designed assessment was meant to be culturally responsive and appreciative of students’ cultural backgrounds and experiences. Results of the study indicated knowledge development on both the school counseling and academic curriculum contents for the entire group. Self-esteem, as reported by participants in the study, increased by 72 percent from preprogram to postprogram. The authors suggest that the use of standards blending could serve as a useful strategy to close the achievement gap.
Drakeford, W. (2004). Racial disproportionality in school disciplinary practices. Denver, CO: National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems.
Disproportionate disciplinary practices based on student demographics are well-documented. Research shows that “zero-tolerance” discipline policies, a response to high-profile school violence incidents in suburban and rural America committed mostly by white students, have contributed to disproportionality in school disciplinary practices. Specifically, such policies have adversely affected students coming from families of low socioeconomic status (SES), students with disability, and minority students. In addition, many zero-tolerance policies are not supported with empirical evidence of effectiveness.
The author offers empirical evidence suggesting that exclusionary discipline policies result in more exclusion, school failure, and dropouts. Recommendations for addressing the problem of disproportionate disciplinary practices include providing staff members with clear definitions of what student actions should result in disciplinary actions in tandem with the kind of action that school personnel should take. The author also suggests school districts evaluate the latitude given to staff when assigning disciplinary actions. Finally, he suggests that staff members review their own beliefs, examine biases they may have regarding diverse students, and amend their practices if necessary.
Gregory, A., Skiba, R. J., & Noguera, P. A. (2010). The achievement gap and the discipline gap: Two sides of the same coin? Educational Researcher, 39(1), 59–68.
National discourse on low-income and minority students has often focused academic outcomes and the growing achievement gap. In 2010, Gregory et al. conducted an analysis that focused on the unequal distribution of disciplinary sanctions toward minority students and how they impact academic performance. Juvenile justice and educational research were analyzed to determine potential causality between disproportionate school discipline and disproportionate low academic achievement among minority students. Data were acquired from the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Department of Education to gather information about school suspensions and expulsions. The data were measured through quantitative analysis and extrapolated by race and gender. Analysis determined that many minority students who struggled academically had been subject to increased disciplinary sanctions. Minority male students were subject to suspension or expulsion from school more than any other student group. The authors suggest that differential selection could contribute to racial achievement and discipline gaps.
Losen, D., & Gillespie, J. (2012). Opportunities suspended: The disparate impact of disciplinary exclusion from school. Los Angeles: UCLA, Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project.
Does anybody know how many students were suspended from school in their child’s district? As this report shows, many districts are frequently resorting to suspension for violations of even minor school rules. More than three million K–12 children are estimated to have lost instructional “seat time” in 2009–10 because they were suspended from school, often with no guarantee of adult supervision outside the school. Besides the obvious loss of time in the classroom, suspensions matter because they are among the leading indicators of whether a child will drop out of school, and because out-of-school suspension increases a child’s risk for future incarceration. This report demonstrates that, although children from every racial group can be found to have a high risk for suspension in some school districts, African-American children and children with disabilities are usually at a far greater risk than others. For example, one out of every six enrolled black students was suspended, compared with about one in 20 white students. This national report, based on suspensions of students in K–12 in 2009–10, represents the first major effort to fill the knowledge gap around school discipline as it stands in thousands of districts in nearly every state.
Mattison, E., & Aber, M. (2007). Closing the achievement gap: The association of racial climate with achievement and behavioral outcomes. American Journal of Community Psychology, 40(1–2), 1–12.
Mattison and Aber developed a racial climate survey to ascertain the relationship between school racial climate and students’ self-reports of academic and discipline outcomes, including whether racial climate mediated and/or moderated the relationship between race and outcomes. The survey contained seven demographic questions, 62 statements regarding students’ perception of their school, and a section that contained three items concerning students’ experiences with racism. A total of 1,838 high school students participated in the study representing a school district in a moderate-sized Midwestern town. A total of 1,456 white students took the survey, as did 382 African-American students. Among the students taking the survey, 50 percent were male, 50 percent were female, and 18 percent were low income. There was a loss of 152 cases from the original sample due to incomplete data on racial climate and outcome.
Results from the survey revealed that African-American and white students had varying perceptions about the racial climate at their schools. One half of white students (51 percent) agreed that students were treated and disciplined fairly regardless of race compared with one third of African-American students (31 percent). About 10 percent of white students agreed that schools needed to change compared with close to half of African-American students (40 percent). Overall, African-American students had more negative perceptions of the racial climate at school and felt that schools were in need of significant reform in comparison to white students. The researchers suggest that increased attention be given to the racial climate in all high schools, especially for students who perceive school to be unfair.
Sherman, D. K., Hartson, K. A., Binning, K. R., Purdie-Vaughns, V., Garcia, J., Taborsky-Barba, S., et al. (2013). Deflecting the trajectory and changing the narrative: How self-affirmation affects academic performance and motivation under identity threat. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 104(4), 591–618.
In this article, the authors reviewed two longitudinal studies that try to determine whether self- affirmations could mediate the effects of identity threat on academic achievement for Latino students. Identity threat occurs when a person’s view of self is challenged, and may manifest itself in discrimination, exclusion, marginalization, and underrepresentation due to minority status, all of which can contribute to academic underperformance. The stress associated with identity threat is considered a factor in lower academic performance over time.
In the first study, middle school students in grades 6–8 were divided into experimental and control groups. The experimental group received the intervention of affirmative writing exercises on four to five occasions, with affirmations, open-ended reflections, and tasks geared toward specific values of individual students. Results showed that over the course of the year, the achievement gap between Latino and white students, measured by grades, widened in the control group. For students receiving the intervention, the achievement gap between the two groups did not widen. Positive effects persisted over a three-year period, raising the trajectory of Latino students. Intervention had no effect on white students.
In the second study, researchers sought to determine if daily writing affirmations would lessen the impact of identity threat on academic achievement. Seventh-grade students were divided into experimental and control groups. The experimental group received the intervention of affirmative writing exercises on two occasions, one month into the school year and one month prior to the end of the school year. Results showed that over the course of the year, the achievement gap between Latino and white students, measured by grades, widened in the control group, as in the first study. For students receiving the intervention, the downward trend in grade point average was eliminated, and the achievement gap between Latino and white students did not widen. Affirmed students construed events from a broader perspective, and were better suited to deflect the negative effects of stereotyping on academic achievement.
Skiba, R. J., Horner, R. H. Chung, C. G., Rausch, M. K., May, S. L., & Tobin, T. (2011). Race is not neutral: A national investigation of African American and Latino disproportionality in school discipline. School Psychology Review, 40(1), 85–107.
Since the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, racial and ethnic disparities in education have continued in other ways, including achievement gaps, overrepresentation of minority students in special education, dropout rates, and graduation rates. Thirty years of research document unequal patterns in discipline referrals and expulsion rates based on ethnic or racial minority status. This article reviews the patterns of disciplinary referrals in 364 elementary and middle schools during the 2005–06 school year.
African-American students were found to be 2.19 times more likely to be referred for problem behavior than their white peers. In addition, African-American and Latino students are more likely than their white peers to be expelled or suspended as a consequence of their problem behavior. Disproportionate results take place at the point of referral and at the point of administrative decision regarding consequences (where the pattern of disparate treatment is the strongest).
Differences in the rates of disciplinary referrals and removal between African-American and Latino students and their white peers cannot be explained on the basis of either economic status or a higher rate of disruption. Since the differences in removal from the academic setting cannot be explained using evidence, the authors argue that removal from the educational setting is a violation of minority students’ civil rights as outlined in the Brown ruling.
Recommendations target three levels in the education system. At the school level, personnel must be aware of the discipline data as reported by race, must focus their efforts on prevention, and must establish clear definitions and consistent acknowledgment of expected school behavior. At the district level, discipline data should be disaggregated by race, and professional development should be available to address inequities in disciplinary referrals or exclusions. At the federal level, recommendations include monitoring of disproportionality in school discipline and mandated corrective action plans where disparities exist.
School Resources - Access to Advanced Coursework
Adelman, C. (2006). The Toolbox Revisited: Paths to Degree Completion from High School through College. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education.
The Toolbox Revisited is a data essay that follows a nationally representative cohort of students from high school into postsecondary education. It seeks to determine components of the students’ formal education leading to attainment of a bachelor’s degree by the mid-20s. The longitudinal study investigates seven variables and their impact on students earning a bachelor’s degree: demographic background and high school history, postsecondary entrance (timing and type of institution), first postsecondary year history (curriculum and performance), factors of financing postsecondary education, extended postsecondary history (curriculum and performance), and complete academic history. The rigor and intensity of a student’s high school curriculum is the most determinative factor in precollegiate history when predicting completion of a bachelor’s degree.
The study concludes that curriculum matters—what is studied, how much of it, and how deeply it matters for degree completion. Secondary schools must provide a rich curriculum. Postsecondary institutions must collaborate to strengthen partnerships with secondary schools, with the goal of providing students with substantive academic credit that can be applied to their critical first year of postsecondary work. Postsecondary institutions should work to ensure students have at least 20 credits at the end of their first calendar year of enrollment, and should take an illiberal stance toward excessive no-penalty and no-credit repeats of courses. Finally, postsecondary institutions should strive to increase the number of students participating in summer terms.
Allensworth, E., Nomi, T., Montgomery, N., & Lee, V. A. (2009). College preparatory curriculum for all: Academic consequences of requiring algebra and English I for ninth graders in Chicago. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 31(4), 367-391.
Some educators feel that coursework should reflect students’ individual abilities,
and others feel that curricula should be universally administered to all students. Allensworth et al. focused on an educational policy in Chicago that eliminated remedial classes and mandated college-preparatory classes for all students. Central to the debate on the issue of remedial versus college-preparatory classes is the issue of “detracking,” which refers to the process of eliminating tracked classrooms to create more heterogeneous grouping. This process is usually conducted to increase academic rigor for all students in schools. Previous research has shown that schools where most students take college-preparatory classes show increased academic gains and a more equitable distribution of learning across racial and socioeconomic groups.
In 1997 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) removed all remedial classes and required that all students have access to a college-preparatory curriculum. Allensworth et al. utilized quantitative analyses, an interrupted time-series cohort design with multiple comparisons, focusing on student enrollment and grades in Algebra and English I classes. The researchers wanted to know how students’ prior academic achievement impacted their scores in these classes. A longitudinal data archive containing complete administrative records for each CPS student, including semester-by-semester course transcripts and elementary and high school achievement test data was utilized for the study. Quantitative analyses revealed that more students completed ninth grade with credits in algebra and English I. The analyses also revealed that failure rates increased, grades slightly declined, test scores did not improve, and students were no more likely to enter college. However, the authors assert that there could be future educations gains over time. Finally, class placement increased academic demands on students but did not increase their likelihood to leave (drop out of) school. Beecher, M., & Sweeney, S. (2008). Closing the achievement gap with curriculum enrichment and differentiation: One school's story. Journal of Advanced Academics, 19(3), 502–530.
The recommendations for school improvements frequently include standards-based instruction, curriculum alignment and coherence, data-based decision making, improving teacher skills through evaluation and professional development, family and community involvement, and other research-based initiatives. Beecher and Sweeney’s research focused on a strategic plan utilizing differentiated instruction, enrichment activities, and a rigorous curriculum to help close the achievement gap between a specific school and other more affluent schools in the district. A plan was developed to use a rigorous curriculum blended with schoolwide enrichment to provide significant academic improvement in a school with many students with low test scores. Quantitative research was conducted in a Connecticut school district over an eight-year period within the suburban elementary school.
The Global Studies curriculum featured in the study focused on social studies learning. Curriculum units were developed in the summer by teachers in the district who received a stipend for their efforts. Teachers wrote differentiated, enriched units of study that originated with the regular curriculum but featured more in-depth learning opportunities and broader exposure to related topics. Teachers received district-funded training on differential techniques. Based on the intervention, students improved scores on state achievement tests across all subject areas. Minority students in remedial classes showed the most dramatic improvement. At the end of the eight-year program, there were no longer any Asian or African-American students taking remedial classes.
Broad Foundation. (2010). Expanding Advanced Placement (AP*) access: A guide to increasing AP participation and success as a means for improving college readiness. Los Angeles: Author. Retrieved from
Recent research shows a correlation between the rate of students taking and scoring a 3 or higher on AP exams and the rate of students graduating from college. Yet, according to the College Board, although 60 percent of high school graduates go to college, only 21 percent of high school graduates take even one AP or International Baccalaureate (IB) course. Furthermore, gaps exist between the number of African-American, Latino, and low-income students and their white and more affluent peers when it comes to taking AP exams and scoring a 3 or higher on those exams. A statewide study conducted in Texas by the National Center for Education Accountability found that six-year college graduation rates rose from approximately 15 percent for African-American and Hispanic students to more than 60 percent if they scored a 3 or higher on at least one AP exam. This Broad Foundation publication is a guide for superintendents, chief academic officers, and their deputies who are working to improve college readiness among high school students, particularly low-income students and students of color, by increasing access to AP coursework and exams. Burris, C. C., Heubert, J. P., & Levin, M. (2006). Accelerating mathematics achievement using heterogeneous grouping. American Educational Research Journal, 43(1), 105–136.
Many educational researchers believe a lack of access to experienced teachers and the presence of outdated academic coursework materials contribute to the achievement gap that exists in students’ mathematics scores. Burris et al. studied the potential impact of providing an accelerated math curriculum to students in a suburban school district outside of New York City. The majority of students who attend the school are white, and their families earn upper-middle-class incomes. Approximately 20 percent of the students in the school district are African American and Latino. During the study period, 98 percent of the students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch were African American or Latino. During the 1997 school year, the New York State Board of Regents mandated that accelerated math courses should be available for all students. School districts had full autonomy on deciding who should be accelerated. Burris et al. sought to determine the effects of universal acceleration on students in the district.
A quasi experimental design was used to examine the mathematics achievement data of students in six consecutive annual cohorts. The first three cohorts entered high school in 1995, 1996, and 1997, the three years before universal acceleration. The final three cohorts entered the high school in 1998, 1999, and 2000, and students’ progress was measured until graduation. Achievement was measured through students’ scores on the Sequential Mathematics I regents exam, the ITBS Mathematics concepts subtest, and student scores in mathematics classes taken. Results showed that with the incorporation of accelerated classes into the curriculum, completion of advanced math courses increased significantly for all groups, including minority students, students of low socioeconomic status, and students at all initial achievement levels. Also, the performance of initial high achievers did not differ statistically in heterogeneous classes in which previously low-achieving students were now incorporated. The inclusion or accelerated math courses was deemed to be a successful strategy for closing the achievement gap.
Carbonaro, W. (2005). Tracking, student effort and academic achievement. Sociology of Education, 78(1), 27–49.
A multitude of research has been conducted to study the impact of tracking systems designed to group students based on academic ability. Using a mixed-methods approach, Carbonaro conducted regression analysis, utilizing the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) of 1988 and reports from student teachers to determine the correlation between student placement in tracking programs and effort displayed on academic tasks. Student effort was measured through teacher reports gathered from the NELS. Student reports concerning effort given in school are also captured in the NELS, but the teacher reports were preferable because the range of items on effort reported by the teachers is more extensive than that reported by the students, and the teacher measures of students’ effort rely on both subjective assessments of students’ effort and student behaviors that are more tangible and easily observed. Results from the analysis illustrated that although student effort was unchanged by placement track, advanced placement students exerted more effort than those placed into remedial-level courses. Callahan suggests that understanding why students at times display a lack of effort and developing strategies to increase student effort could be helpful toward closing the achievement gap.
Riegle-Crumb, C., & Grodsky, E. (2010). Racial-ethnic differences at the intersection of math course-taking and achievement. Sociology of Education, 83(3), 248–270.
Mathematics is an academic core content subject that produces substantial differences in scores on standardized tests between minority students and white students. The differences in scores are often attributed to differences in school composition and socioeconomic status. Grodsky and Crumb utilized a nationally representative sample of high school students’ math scores to determine causal factors of the mathematics achievement gap between low-income minority students and their peers. Data were analyzed over a two-year period and acquired from student transcripts and the National Education Longitudinal Study of 2002. Students’ scores were first captured during their sophomore year, and follow-ups were conducted when they became seniors. Regression model analysis was used to examine racial/ethnic gaps in math achievement and the extent to which they are accounted for by family socioeconomic resources and school racial/ethnic composition. Grodsky and Crumb determined that gaps at the top of the academic achievement distribution were the most pronounced. The achievement gap was highest for minority students who took the most demanding math classes such as calculus or trigonometry across all income levels. The authors suggest that increasing access to demanding math classes for minority students could serve as a useful strategy for closing the achievement gap.
Spielhagen, F. (2006). Closing the achievement gap in math: Considering eighth grade algebra for all students. American Secondary Education, 34(3), 29–42.
Many educators partially attribute the achievement gap faced by many low-income and minority students to a lack of rigor in the academic coursework available. Students in many low-income schools do not have access to advanced placement or honors courses. Therefore, differences in curriculum choice leave many students at a disadvantage. In a study of a large urban southeastern school district, Spielhagen conducted research to determine if exposure to algebra for eighth-grade students had an impact on academic achievement for future mathematics high school courses.
Spielhagen used a mixed-methods design of both qualitative and quantitative methods to examine a mathematics tracking policy whereby some students had access to the study of algebra in eighth grade. A longstanding district policy was established that required sixth-grade students to take a test designed by teachers to predict readiness for algebraic concepts. Scores on this readiness test, as well as teacher nomination, provided entrance into honors mathematics courses in seventh grade. Students who successfully completed seventh-grade, honors-level mathematics classes advanced to Algebra 1 in eighth grade. Spielhagen found a disparity of access according to student ethnicity. Greater percentages of black and Latino students were in Mathematics 8, and a larger proportion of Asian students were in Grade 8 Algebra 1 classes. White students appeared to be evenly distributed in the two mathematics options. Economics appeared to be a factor as well; the schools with the highest percentage of students with free or reduced-price lunch also had the lowest percentage of students in Grade 8 Algebra 1. Spielhagen also found that students who took algebra in eighth grade scored higher in later standardized math tests than those who did not. The author proposes increasing student access to more rigorous coursework, including algebra in earlier grades, to help close the achievement gap.
Teacher Quality and Experience
Barton, P. (2003). Parsing the achievement gap: Baselines for tracking progress (Policy Information Report). Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, Policy Information Center.
There are multiple factors that contribute to the achievement gap that exists in public schools across the country. Barton focuses on 14 links between educational achievement and the various educational experiences among these correlates upon various subgroups. Correlates were identified through a synthesis of research regarding school quality from a variety of resources, including the National Center for Education Statistics and Child Trends. Identified correlates included student mobility, parent participation, class size, rigor of curriculum, and teacher experience. In all 14 correlates identified, data were available for race and ethnicity; in 12 cases, data were also available for some measure of income.
Across all the variables related to educational achievement that were measured, Barton found that minority students and poor students disproportionately faced conditions that are hindrances to achieving at levels reached by majority students, from elementary school to high school completion. Some of the highest gaps were seen in the variables of parent availability and teacher preparation. Based on the correlates identified in the study, Barton suggests that the development of a set of indicators that could be monitored at the national and state levels could be useful in bringing about comprehensive school reform.
Borman, G. D., & Kimball, S. M. (2005). Teacher quality and educational equality: Do teachers with higher standards‐based evaluation ratings close achievement gaps? The Elementary School Journal, 106(1), 3–20.
Research has indicated that the level of instructional quality a student receives has long-lasting and cumulative and positive effects. Research has also shown that minority students are disproportionately taught by underqualified teachers, including those who are inexperienced or have failed to meet their state’s teacher licensing and certification requirements. Borman and Kimball analyzed teacher evaluations for Washoe County School District in Nevada to determine possible correlations between instructional quality as determined by assessment ratings and academic outcomes.
Evaluations from 400 teachers and 7,000 students were included in the study on Washoe County School District, which serves students in the Reno and Sparks districts in Nevada for students and teachers in Grades 4–6. The authors utilized quantitative analysis, a hierarchical linear model, to determine teacher effects on achievement. The two-level model also assessed the relationship between teachers’ evaluation scores, experience, and overall classroom mean achievement. The analyses revealed that students from poor, minority, and low‐achieving backgrounds had significantly higher access to teachers of lower quality. The authors assert that providing more experienced teachers in low-income schools could serve as a useful strategy for closing the achievement gap.
Boyd, D., Lankford, H., Loeb, S., Rockoff, J., & Wyckoff, J. (2007). The narrowing gap in New York City teacher qualifications and its implications for student achievement in high-poverty schools. Washington, DC: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research.
Boyd et al. conducted quantitative research to ascertain the distribution of educational resources across New York City schools and to determine any effect that disparities in resources could have on the achievement of poor and minority students. Prior research by this research team revealed that in New York City elementary schools in 2000, nonwhite students were 40 percent more likely to have a teacher who was not certified in any of the courses he or she taught and 40 percent more likely to have a teacher with no prior experience. A statistical analysis was conducted to determine how the sorting of teacher qualifications across schools, categorized by poverty status and the racial-ethnic composition of students, changed between 2000 and 2005 and also how changing the composition of teacher qualifications affected student achievement gains.
Student achievement was measured through data captured by the New York City Department of Education. Teacher competency was determined by experience, institutions from which teachers’ degrees were obtained, certifications received, and teacher certification exam scores. In analyzing data from 2000–2005, the researchers found a narrowing gap in teacher qualifications between high-poverty schools and low-poverty schools. In terms of novice (one year or less) teachers, the gap between high-poverty and low-poverty elementary schools in 2000 was 12 percentage points, and by 2005 it had diminished to 5.6 percentage points. Boyd et al. theorized that the reduction could be due to changes in the qualifications of newly hired teachers and the ways in which they vary with the poverty status of schools. Over the same period in which the gap in teacher qualifications narrowed, the gap in the proportion of students failing to meet proficiency standards also narrowed. Between 2000 and 2005, failure rates declined in for all poverty groups, but they declined the most in the highest poverty schools so that the gap between low- and high-poverty groups narrowed to 32 points. However, this paper suggests that selection of teachers with stronger qualifications contributed to academic gains and the recruitment and retention of teachers with stronger measurable characteristics can lead to improved student learning.
Ferguson, R. (2002). What doesn't meet the eye: Understanding and addressing racial disparities in high-achieving suburban schools. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Wiener Center for Social Policy.
Many educational reform efforts focus on minority students in urban, low-income schools. Ferguson’s research is concentrated on African-American students in high-performing suburban schools. He specifically examined racial and ethnic achievement disparities in schools with high academic rankings. Ferguson worked with a team of researchers from the Minority Student Achievement Network to examine disparities for minority students in middle and high schools across 15 middle- and upper-middle-income districts. Together, they developed the Ed-Excel Assessment of Secondary School Student Culture that captured information that included family characteristics, opinions about the quality of instruction, enjoyment of studies, and achievement motivations. The survey was administered to a total of 95 schools and a total of 34,128 students.
Through his quantitative research, Ferguson determined that African-American students, Latino students, and mixed-race students achieved lower grade point averages and reported less comprehension of the material that they read for school in comparison with their white and Asian counterparts. Minority students in the survey reported lower grade point averages and test scores than their white counterparts despite the fact that the survey reported they spent similar amounts of time on homework (only a discernible difference was seen in the study patterns of Asian students). White students in the survey were far more likely to cite teacher motivation as a source of encouragement than nonwhite students were. Ferguson feels that t cultivating strong teacher-student relationships and developing an understanding of the racial and ethnic differences in how students experience the social environments of schools and classrooms are critical factors in helping to close the achievement gap.
Ferguson, R. (2003). Teachers’ perceptions and expectations and the black-white test score gap. Journal of Urban Education, 38(4), 460–507.
Ronald Ferguson addresses how teachers’ expectations and perceptions of students can have a direct and lasting impact on student achievement. According to Ferguson, teachers who have low expectations and biased perceptions of students and act upon them can negatively impact academic achievement across various social, economic, and educational contexts. In his work, he conducted a meta-analysis on studies that focused on teachers’ expectations. Across the 16 studies included, teachers had higher expectations for white students in nine of the studies and for African-American students in one of the studies. He also found no clear evidence of any type concerning whether teacher’s expectations or behaviors are racially biased for students whom they perceive to be equal on past or present measures of performance or proficiency. However, when taking unconditional racial neutrality as the benchmark, he found that teachers’ perceptions and expectations were biased in favor of white students, and that teacher behavior appeared to be less supportive of minority students.
Flores, A. (2007). Examining disparities in mathematics education: Achievement gap or opportunity gap. The High School Journal, 91(1), 29–42.
Flores reframes the typical achievement gap conversation into one of a discussion of opportunities. He utilizes data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to reveal significant differences in achievement on state mathematics tests among students, particularly between ethnic groups and income levels. Data collected from NAEP showed that by the start of the eighth grade, 91 percent of African-American students and 87 percent of Latino students are not proficient at grade level for math, compared with 53 percent of Asian students and 63 percent of white students. Flores’s work examines these trends nationally and reviews existing publications regarding student achievement in mathematics.
Flores argues that disparities in mathematics achievement are largely due to a lack of opportunity for youth to succeed rather than a lack of competency. A lack of adequate technology—including computers, calculators, and a Web-based curriculum—is disproportionately displayed in schools with high concentrations of minority students. These schools also are far more likely to have teachers who do not possess the adequate credentials to teach the subjects they are teaching. According to data Flores gathered from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, out-of-field teachers (teachers who do not have at least a minor in the subject area they teach) are far more likely to be found in high-poverty schools, compared with low-poverty schools. Reducing the number of out-of-field teachers was a reform strategy identified by Flores.
Goldstein, J. & Noguera, P. (2006). Cultivating good teaching: Providing instructional leadership through teacher peer assistance and review. Education Leadership, 63(6), 31-37.
Research has linked teacher preparation to teacher effectiveness and the ability of teachers to accelerate student achievement. The authors describe peer assistance and review (PAR) as an approach to meet the needs of new and experienced teachers with the end goal of improved instruction and student achievement. Since the advent of No Child Left Behind, districts have sought to deprivatize the practice of teaching and reduce teacher isolation through mentoring and coaching. In addition, some districts have instituted PAR in the teacher evaluation process. During the process, exemplary teachers are identified as coaches who work with new teachers and struggling veteran teachers. The coaches are also responsible for teachers’ formal evaluations. Although this has been typically in the purview of principals, the advantage of having coaches complete the formal evaluations include deep knowledge of a teacher’s level of competence, knowledge of support given and the ability to measure teacher’s response to the support.
Findings from a research study that examined the perceptions of the effects of PARs show that teachers rarely have time to reflect on their practice with peers. This is especially true for teachers working in high-poverty schools. The PAR process allowed for this opportunity. Although many new teachers, frequently those in large urban districts, do not receive adequate support during their first few years on the job, the PAR process afforded new teachers ongoing contact and support. The PAR approach also shows promise for support to struggling veteran teachers. Districts using PAR have found it to be an effective way of systematically improving instruction through a rigorous evaluation process.
Hirsh, S. (2005). Professional development and closing the achievement gap. Theory Into Practice, 44(1), 38–44.
Staff development is an important element of the school improvement process and can be a key factor in closing the achievement gap. Hirsch sought information on the ways that urban educators utilized professional development toward promoting school reform. She interviewed four prominent urban educators to gain their perspective on improving student outcomes through the use of professional development. The author suggests that teaching has a direct impact on student achievement, and that quality teaching can be enhanced through effective professional development. This qualitative study, based on interview and analyses, revealed several strategies for suggested improvement. Interviewees discussed standards-based instruction and assessment as well as professional development.
The educators interviewed also theorized that strong teaching prepares students to embrace and be familiar with their own cultures, and provides the ability to negotiate unfamiliar cultures. One conclusion of the study is that the development of relationships and levels of encouragement given to minority students from their teachers iscritical to student success.
Johnson, J. F., & Uline, C. L. (2005). Preparing educational leaders to close achievement gaps. Theory Into Practice, 44(1), 45–52.
Johnson and Uline analyzed literature from the Interstate School Leadership Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) with the goal of determining commonalities in the ways in which educational leaders successfully addressed school reform. They devoted attention to strategies used by leadership personnel employed in districts and schools that have closed achievement gaps. The authors utilized quantitative research and suggested that leaders who use these core areas as guiding principles for their work will be successful in closing achievement gaps in their districts.
The ISLLC developed five broad areas within conditions for student learning that can be positively influenced by the actions of school leadership: relationships with the broader community to foster learning; integrity; fairness; ethics in learning; the political, social, economic, legal, and cultural context of learning. The authors provided specific detail for each content area and also detailed roles that school administrators should play for each area. For each of the areas, the authors suggest that school administrators should serve as educational leaders who promote the success of all students by understanding, responding to, and influencing the larger political, social, and cultural context of the schools they serve.
Levine, T., & Marcus, A. (2007). Closing the achievement gap through teacher collaboration: Facilitating multiple trajectories of teacher learning. Journal of Advanced Academics, 19(1), 116–138.
Differences in instructional quality have proven to be a significant contributor to the achievement gap that exists among various groups of students. Many factors can contribute to the variance of instructional quality in school districts, including a lack of opportunities for professional development for teachers as well as a lack of curricular choices for students. Levine and Marcus conducted a qualitative study that placed a focus on the collective efforts of teachers in order to better meet the needs of many different kinds of students traditionally underserved by public education. A case study was conducted focusing on the qualitative research on a teacher collaboration project developed between two high schools. More than 120 hours of classroom observations were measured using a designed teacher assessment protocol across two teams of teachers to assess how the collaboration informed teacher practices. The practices with which teachers were actively engaging were then compared against existing research from the field of promising instructional practices. In conclusion, Levine and Marcus suggested promoting teacher collaboration as a useful strategy for closing the achievement gap. They also proposed that school and district leaders provide time for training and that they develop structures for identifying the tensions and challenges in the work of teachers so that new lines of inquiry and experimentation may grow.
Pianta, R. J., Belsky, J., Vandergrift, N., Houts, R., & Morrison, F. J. (2008). Classroom effects on children’s achievement trajectories in elementary school. American Educational Research Journal, 45(2), 365–397.
Pianta et al. conducted a nonexperimental longitudinal field study to assess how classroom supports, including quality of emotional and instructional interactions and amount of exposure to literacy and math activities, could predict patterns of achievement in reading and math for youth from the time of 54 months to their entrance into fifth grade. Mothers from 10 medium-sized to large size cities across the United States were contacted at their children’s birth. After the screening process (proximity to the research center, ability to speak English, no plans to move within three years), 1,364 children were selected to participate. Due to general attrition and students and families missing appointments, 791 students were included in the final sample. Twenty-four percent of the youth in the sample were minorities and 14 percent lived in single-parent households. The authors developed a classroom observation system that was administered during the spring of the child’s first-, third-, and fifth-grade years between January and late April. The observation was designed to capture teacher interactions with students as well as observations concerning specific youth and their classroom experiences. Observers were trained participants and not the students’ individual teachers. Achievement outcomes were measured using the Woodcock Johnson Psychoeducational Battery-Revised test.
Pianta et al.’s research indicated that, for reading scores, there were small positive associations between observed emotional quality of teacher-child interactions and growth. Data for math achievement revealed small positive relationships with observed emotional interactions and exposure to math activities. Results also showed that there was a significant interaction between quality and quantity of instruction for reading scores. The authors suggested that the emotional quality of the classroom setting and the teachers’ abilities to respond to individual student need were consistent predictors for both reading and math skill growth and that an increased emphasis on fostering positive teacher-student relationships could help to close the achievement gap.