Report: To Close Achievement Gaps, Close Gaps in Life Experiences and Conditions
Minority and poor students continue to face conditions that undermine school achievement
- Jason Baran
- Jason Baran
Princeton, N.J. (April 30, 2009) —
Five years after a landmark Educational Testing Service (ETS) study identified racial/ethnic and income gaps in 14 life conditions and experiences that are associated with academic success, a new analysis acknowledges little progress in closing the gaps.
Parsing the Achievement Gap II updates ETS’s 2003 Policy Information Center study, Parsing the Achievement Gap: Baselines for Tracking Progress. The updated report identifies 16 factors ranging from birth weight and hunger to lead poisoning, parental involvement, and teacher quality that are related to academic performance. The report then looks at whether these important factors were distributed evenly across different racial/ethnic and income groups.
The new report concludes that while a few of the gaps in the achievement correlates have narrowed and a few have widened, overall, the gaps identified in the previous study remain unaltered and disturbing.
“The undeniable fact is that disparities in life experiences and conditions directly affect, for better or worse, cognitive development and academic achievement,” Paul E. Barton, co-author of the report says. “These 16 correlates span from birth to adolescence and include life experiences in the home before school, during school, after school and in the summer.”
Barton and co-author Richard J. Coley, however, make it clear that these 16 factors include school experiences as well as before-school and out-of-school experiences, and emphasize that the results should in no way diminish the profound importance of schools and their quality as keys to raising achievement and closing gaps.
Coley, Director of the ETS Policy Information Center explains, “Analyzing these correlates will help to further our understanding of what causes achievement gaps and how we can successfully address them. The correlates are best viewed as three clusters of factors—school factors, factors related to the home and school connection, and factors that are present both before and beyond school.”
A few of the report findings include:
- Teacher preparation – Minority and low-income students are less likely to be taught by certified teachers and more likely to have math teachers with neither a major nor a minor in mathematics. The gap in students having teachers prepared in the subjects they teach widened between White and Hispanic students and remained about the same for the other populations.
- Fear and safety at school – Minority students are more likely to report issues of fear and safety at school. The gaps widened for students reporting the presence of street gangs and fights in school, and remained unchanged for students reporting feeling fearful in school.
Home and School Connection
- Parent participation – White students’ parents are more likely to attend a school event or to volunteer at school. The gap in parents volunteering in schools remained unchanged; the gap in parents attending school events narrowed.
Before and Beyond School
- Hunger and nutrition – Minority and low-income children were more likely to be food insecure. The White-Black gap was unchanged; the White-Hispanic gap narrowed.
- Excessive television watching – Minority and lower socioeconomic status children watch more television. The gap was unchanged between White and Black students; the gap widened among students whose parents have different education levels.
Barton and Coley conclude, “…the finding that these critical gaps in the life and school experiences of minority and low-income children still mirror gaps in school achievement as they did five years ago is very troubling and shows how much work there is to do and how early we need to start. And we have to start with a clear recognition of the depth of the causes of achievement gaps, and expand the scope of our efforts to eliminate them both inside and outside the schools.”
In addition to closing gaps in “beyond school” conditions, Coley emphasizes that we still need to improve the quality of children’s teachers and schools. Only by improving conditions both inside and outside of schools will we successfully close achievement gaps.
Download Parsing the Achievement Gap II for free at www.ets.org/research/pic. Purchase copies for $15 (prepaid) by writing to the Policy Information Center, Educational Testing Service, MS 19-R, Rosedale Road, Princeton, NJ 08541-0001, by calling (609) 734-5212, or by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the ETS Policy Information Center
The ETS Policy Information Center identifies the education issues that are most challenging to educators and policymakers and presents data and information that enhance understanding and engender ideas for improvement. The Center’s scope covers education issues ranging from pre-school through adulthood. Topics usually concentrate on education quality and focus on individual, group, and institutional performance and participation in education.
At nonprofit ETS, we advance quality and equity in education for people worldwide by creating assessments based on rigorous research. ETS serves individuals, educational institutions and government agencies by providing customized solutions for teacher certification, English language learning, and elementary, secondary and post-secondary education, as well as conducting education research, analysis and policy studies. Founded in 1947, ETS develops, administers and scores more than 50 million tests annually — including the TOEFL® and TOEIC® tests, the GRE® test and The Praxis Series™ assessments — in more than 180 countries, at over 9,000 locations worldwide.