Can the Achievement Gaps be Overcome?
Claude M. Steele argues that efforts to remedy the black-white test score gap need to aim at the root causes, and not just at the tests themselves.
This reports some of the ideas and findings from the following source:
Steele, C. M. (1998, November/December). The black-white test score gap.The American Prospect,9. Retrieved August 8, 2002, from http://www.prospect.org/print/V9/41/jencks-c.html.
To see other reports that originated from this same citation, go to the bibliography.
Steele criticizes the research of Christopher Jencks and Meredith Phillips on the test score gap for attributing too much importance to test scores as a means of righting racial inequality.
Jencks and Phillips admit that it is not the test scores that matter but rather the skills. These skills, they insist, are not just a product of cultural or economic context, however. While black students who grow up in more affluent families and attend predominately white schools do tend to perform at a level closer to whites, conclusive evidence for this effect is lacking.
For example, a comparison of five- and six-year-olds whose parents had the same average annual income showed that the black-white gap was reduced by only a fifth when taking into account the income factor. Hence, better scores are not merely a proxy for higher socioeconomic status.
On the other hand, the skills such tests measure are actually good predictors of the black-white gap in job earnings, Jencks and Phillips claim. This is important, they say, because if skills and not cultural context are the most important factors in the earnings gap, then skills are relatively easy to improve. If, however, it is the cultural context that is the most important factor, then improving blacks’ test scores and earnings will be much more difficult. It is significantly easier to build students’ and workers’ skills than it is to alter centuries-old patterns of discrimination and stereotyping.
Research Design: This article consists of a series of responses from prominent experts to Christopher Jencks and Meredith Phillips’ article America’s Next Achievement Test, The American Prospect, 9, September-October 1998.
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