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Achievement Gaps
Literature Library


Can the Achievement Gaps be Overcome?

  1. How to Close the Achievement Gaps: Research and Policy

    1. Families

Want to Address the Achievement Gap? Educate the Parents

Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams argue that improving parents’ education is an effective way of reducing the test score gap.

This reports some of the ideas and findings from the following source:

Ceci, S. J., & Williams, W. M. (1998, November/December). The black-white test score gap.The American Prospect,9. Retrieved August 8, 2002, from

To see other reports that originated from this same citation, go to the bibliography.

In response to Christopher Jencks and Meredith Phillips’s research on reducing the black-white test-score gap, Ceci and Williams point out that the trend of decrease in the gap actually stopped after 1989. Moreover, they claim that evidence attributing that decrease to government programs is mixed at best.

Instead, the single best explanation for the reduction in the gap was the increase in black parents’ educational attainment, which explained about 25% of the reduction in the gap. Black parents’ educational attainment from 1971 to 1989 far outpaced that of whites, and in several areas:

  • the percentage of parents who graduated from high school
  • the proportion that attended at least some college
  • the percentage that completed college and pursued postgraduate degrees

Ceci and Williams offer three specific recommendations for furthering the reduction in the test-score gap:

  1. Reduce class size during the first three years of school.
  2. Develop preschool programs geared to cognitive development.
  3. Promote programs to encourage educational attainment for minority parents, such as those for pregnant teenagers and working parents.

Jencks and Phillips Respond

Christopher Jencks and Meredith Phillips are skeptical of the role that increases in parental education played in boosting children’s test scores. They say that if there were truly a causal relationship here, then there should have been an increase in both black and white children’s scores, since white parents’ educational achievement also increased during the 1980s.

However, data have shown that white children’s gains were less than one would have expected on the basis of the increases in their parents’ educational level. Why then would the increase in black students’ scores be attributable to the larger increase in black parents’ educational level? They suggest that this question needs further study.

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 Prospectvol. 9 no. 40, September-October 1998.


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