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Achievement Gaps
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Can the Achievement Gaps be Overcome?

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

What Have We Learned about Raising Minority Academic Achievement?

In their report, Reaching the Top: Report of the National Task Force on Minority High Achievement, the College Board reviews the research and programs since the 1960s that target raising minority achievement. They create a synopsis of what we know, based on 30 years of experience, about raising the number of high-achieving minority students.

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

Miller, L. S. (1999).Reaching the top: Report of the National Task Force on Minority High Achievement.The College Board. Retrieved April 2, 2002 from (Adobe® Reader® PDF)
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Black, Hispanic, and Native American minorities are dramatically underrepresented among the nation's highest academic achievers. Across all social class groups, these minorities do not achieve high academic success nearly as often as their white and Asian-American counterparts.

L. Scott Miller reviews the programs and research since the 1960s regarding high minority academic achievement. He describes what we have learned from programs and research over this period in a number of areas.

Preschool and Parent Education

  • The best model preschool programs show long-term gains for disadvantaged children, but these gains have not been large enough to translate into high achievement in high school.
  • The best model preschool programs are resources intensive. There is simply not enough public money available to bring most programs around the U.S. up to the standards of the best programs.
  • Most preschool programs have not been evaluated with regard to whether they provide benefits to middle- and high-SES minority children.
  • Many minority children still do not have access to preschool programs.
  • The most highly regarded parent education programs target disadvantaged students.
  • It is not clear to what extent parent education programs would be effective for middle- and high-SES parents.

Elementary and Secondary School Reform

  • Standards- and assessment-based school reform. Miller says that many state policymakers believe that we can promote high achievement by holding students and schools accountable for academic performance. Many states have developed standards of academic proficiency and tie concrete outcomes to meeting those proficiency levelsfor instance, graduation in the case of students and funding or job retention for teachers and administrators in the case of schools and districts. Miller sees two important aspects of this method of reform for high minority achievement:

    Visibility. Miller says that many states report test scores broken down for different minority populations. This can help foster high minority achievement by providing increased visibility of the progress or lack of progress for these minority groups. Miller says the example of Texas demonstrates that using this method of reform can help to make significant improvement in both white and minority achievement.

    Funding. Miller thinks that in states where the gap between minority and white academic achievement is closing too slowly, this may motivate increased spending in this area.
  • School-level improvement strategies. Miller says that school-level improvement strategies have become much more common in the past15 yearsalthough some programs date back to the 1960s. The focus of these strategies rests on bringing about fundamental changes within schools in areas such as curriculum, teacher training and teacher quality, school organization and school-home relations. Miller says that although many of these programs target disadvantaged children, somelike the "whole school reform" programsfocus on reform for every child in the school. Miller also says that research on many of these programs shows proven or very encouraging results. With respect to minority high achievement, Miller makes the following points:

    The programs with the best research support for their effectiveness target disadvantaged students. Little research has been done on programs that can spur more advantaged minority students to the highest levels of achievement.

    There is growing evidence that programs need to focus on maintaining high minority achievement. Research shows that minority students who begin school with high test scores make smaller gains than minority students who begin with lower test scores. Miller says that programs need to be in place to support minority high achievers and keep them on track for future success.

    The U.S. government has been dedicating increasing funds to programs that foster academic achievement. However, says Miller, these programs are still generally focused on disadvantaged children. More funds should be appropriated to help non-disadvantaged minority students achieve the highest levels of academic performance.

Supplementary Education to Promote High Minority Academic Achievement

Miller says that supplementary education programs are the formal and informal learning opportunities that students have outside the school day. He says that there has been an increasing use of these types of programs as a way to enhance student achievement.

Miller says that supplementary programs have been in place for many years. They are sponsored by a wide range of institutions: schools, churches, and civic organizations. However, he says, remarkably few of these supplementary programs have been rigorously evaluated. We know, though, that the highest achieving groups have developed networks of supplemental programs that Miller says can best be described as parallel education systems.

Increasing amounts of government monies have been directed into supplementary programssuch as after-school programs. However, as with many other programs, the focus has been on helping disadvantaged students. Miller says that raising minority high achievement may require an extensive use of these kinds of programs, not only for disadvantaged students but for more advantaged minority students as well.

High Minority Achievement in Higher Education

Miller says that much attention has been given to minority representation in higher education. However, he says, the focus has been primarily on entrance and graduation rates. Very little attention has been devoted to minority high achievement in college.

Miller says that this is a grievous oversight. Research indicates that even minority students who are well-prepared do not do as well in college as their white or Asian counterparts. Scores on college entrance exams tend to "overestimate" how well minority students will perform in college. That is, even when white and black students have the same entrance exam scores, the college academic performance of black students tends to be worse than the performance of white studentsespecially at historically white and elite colleges.

Miller believes, however, that higher education programs designed to facilitate very high minority achievement show promise. While few have been rigorously evaluated, evidence seems to show that they can make a difference if they are well designed and implemented.

Miller also recognizes that the repeal of affirmative-action policies in some states makes instituting programs of this sort complicated. However, he says, there are examples of programs that foster very high achievement among college students that serve broader segments of the student population (including whites and Asians).

The Bottom Line

Miller asserts that Americans have a moral obligation to expand public and private investment in African American, Hispanic and Native American academic achievement. He also asserts that a major part of this investment should be focused on fostering high academic achievement among these groupsnot merely settling for average achievement.

Research Design:

Research Questions

What are the patterns of minority high academic achievement?

What can be done to foster high academic achievement for minority groups?

What has been done in the way of educational programs to foster high academic achievement for minority groups?

Data and Method

Miller writes a programmatic piece. His goal is to draw on existing research to argue that more can and should be done to foster high minority academic achievement.

Funding Source

The College Board.


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