Improving Lives of Middle School-age Black Boys the Focus of ETS Symposium at Children's Defense Fund National Conference


Princeton, N.J. (July 27, 2012) —

Nonprofit Educational Testing Service, in cooperation with the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), this week brought in experts and promoted solutions to achievement gaps that plague the United States' 1.5 million African-American boys, ages 9–13, at a symposium held July 22 during the CDF's national conference in Cincinnati.

The symposium, "Middle School Matters: Improving the Life Course of Black Boys," was the second in a series for educators, child advocates, academics and policymakers. Sessions focused on the latest research and most effective practices in public schools that can help to close the achievement gap and foster academic success.

"Forty-six percent of African-American boys between the ages of 9 and 13 attend high poverty schools and 17 percent live in extreme poverty compared to five percent of their white peers," Dr. Michael Nettles, Senior Vice President and Edmund W. Gordon Chair of ETS's Policy Evaluation & Research Center, said at the symposium. "This crisis is not too large to solve and middle school is the best chance that we have to set these children on the right course toward productive teenage and adult lives. Unless we take action to address the education and socioeconomic conditions that these boys face, 1 in 3 African-American boys is likely to spend time in prison during his lifetime."

Many Black boys enter their middle school years facing unique developmental and social challenges. Building on A Strong Start: Positioning Young Black Boys for Educational Success, the latest ETS forum on achievement gaps explored several key issues:

  • The importance of the middle school years in Black boys' development.
  • The specific challenges facing Black boys in this age group, including fast physical, cognitive, social and emotional growth within the context of being identified as "young black men" in our society and all that the label entails.
  • Academically, Black boys find themselves significantly behind their White peers: Persistent achievement gaps in reading and math have been documented in both fourth and eighth grades.
  • The importance of developing better reading skills for Black boys ages 9–13: The NAEP 2011 Reading Assessment shows that just 13 percent of Black boys in fourth grade are proficient in reading compared to 40 percent of their White peers. In eighth grade, just 11 percent of Black male students are proficient in reading, compared to 37 percent of their White peers.
  • Delivering a culturally competent education for Black boys at this age range: Research suggests that having a great teacher may be the single most important in-school factor affecting whether students succeed. In fact, recent findings indicate that an effective teacher can increase the lifetime earnings of a classroom by $250,000. But the social and academic needs of Black boys in middle school are unique, including academic expectations, classroom management, school climate and the need for a diverse teaching workforce that includes more Black male teachers.
  • School leaders' critical role in Black boys' success, including best practices in school discipline, teacher recruitment, curriculum development, parent engagement and more.

Videos of ETS's presentations and sessions will be posted on ETS's Achievement Gap website,

CDF's conference drew more than 3,000 advocates this week to provocative plenary sessions and workshops that examined strategies to close the Cradle to Prison Pipeline ™ and mass incarceration — including poverty, racial disparities, zero-tolerance school discipline policies, and achievement gaps between the poor and more affluent.

About ETS

At 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 as a nonprofit in 1947, ETS develops, administers and scores more than 50 million tests annually — including the TOEFL® and TOEIC® tests, the GRE® tests and The Praxis Series™ assessments — in more than 180 countries, at over 9,000 locations worldwide.