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NCREL® Report on Achievement Gaps Released to the Public

Leading Researchers Identify Strategies to Help Close Achievement Gaps

December 23, 2002

Naperville, IL — The North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL) today released cutting edge research about the academic achievement gaps that exist between poor and minority students and their affluent and majority peers. In the December 2002 edition of NCREL's Policy Issues two, leading experts share their research findings relating to these gaps and what policymakers can do to address them.

This special, double-edition of Policy Issues explores the topic of closing achievement gaps from two perspectives. Harvard University researcher Ronald F. Ferguson, Ph.D., shares his findings from a recent survey of more than 34,000 students from middle- and upper-income districts that comprise the Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN). The second report, authored by Reginald Clark, Ph.D., president of Clark and Associates, includes findings from urban communities that focus on the in-school and out-of-school conditions that support students' academic achievement.

"Compared to whites and Asians, black and Hispanic students in MSAN districts have lower average test scores and grade-point averages and lag behind as well in self-reported measures of knowledge and skill," stated Ferguson. "Black and Hispanic students report less understanding of their teacher's lessons and less comprehension of the material that they read for school. These skills and knowledge gaps are predicted in part by differences in family background and home learning resources," Ferguson explained. "Perhaps the most interesting finding is the distinctive importance of teacher encouragement as a reported source of motivation for nonwhite students, especially African American students. This highlights the likely importance of strong teacher-student relationships in affecting achievement, especially for African-American and Hispanic students," said Ferguson.

The study conducted by Clark provides a rich opportunity to assess what factors may contribute to creating the achievement gap between higher- and lower-achieving students from different social class and racial groups. He found that the factors that matter most for student achievement on standardized tests include: teacher instructional actions and expectations for students; student's total weekly in-school and out-of-school time in high-yield activities; activity quality; parental standards, beliefs, and expectations; and teacher-parent communication actions.

The December 2002 issue of NCREL's Policy Issues is available online at www.ncrel.org/policy/pubs/html/pivol13. The full reports of Ferguson and Clark are available on NCREL's Closing the Achievement Gaps Web site (www.ncrel.org/gap/research.htm).

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