Why focus on demographically identifiable subgroups?

One of the challenges in my work with schools, faith-based organizations, and community agencies is to get them to take a holistic view of student achievement within the context of demographically identifiable subgroups. By this, I mean raising the question, “How are students from our ‘demographic group’ faring in their journey from kindergarten through college?” The question itself provides a much more salient focus than does national high school graduation rates, college enrollment rates, student loan rates, and student performance. As Ministry Leaders for the Education Ministry at the Turner Chapel AME Churchin Marietta, Georgia, my wife and I must concern ourselves with how students like the students who attend our church are doing in their journey from kindergarten into college and careers. To do anything else would cloud our judgment and shift our focus from the challenges that are unique to their demographic group.

From the ACT report, “African American Students, The Condition of College & Career Readiness: Class of 2012” we learn that among 2012 high school graduates who took the ACT college entrance examination, the following reflected the percentage of all students who met the ACT college readiness benchmarks in the four subject-areas tested:

  • 67 percent of all students met the benchmark in English
  • 52 percent of all students met the benchmark in Reading
  • 46 percent of all students met the benchmark in Mathematics
  • 31 percent of all students met the benchmark in Science

While the percentage of all students meeting the college-readiness benchmarks may be disappointing, the percentage of African American meeting the benchmarks is tragic. Of the 222,237 African American high school seniors taking the ACT, there was as much as a three-fold gap in their performance and that of students from other demographic groups with only 5 percent of African American students meeting the college-readiness benchmarks in all four subject areas. As evidenced by the illustration below, it is critically important for students, parents, teachers, institutions, and organizations to take demographic subgroup performance data into consideration when determining the scope of what must be done (whether as an individual student choosing to participate in a study group, a parent choosing to enroll their child in tutoring, or an organization choosing to initiate a college/career readiness program).

What it Means and What We Must Do

Demographic subgroup data should:

  • Sensitize students to how students from their demographic subgroup are performing in comparison to other students
  • Provide a catalyst for conversations between teachers and parents concerned with intervention
  • Guide organizations concerned with subgroup performance (i.e., faith-based institutions, sororities, fraternities, and community-based organizations) in developing initiatives and focusing their outreach efforts

A Working Model

National and local subgroup performance data (i.e., SAT/ACT scores, high school graduation rates, college enrollment rates, AP course enrollment, performance on state testing and end-of-course exams, and student loan debt) have been the driving force behind our work in the Turner Chapel AME Church’s Education Ministry. The types of initiatives we have implemented in response to such demographic subgroup data provides a model for other institutions and organizations concerned with the plight of the students and families they serve.

Information Workshops

The workshops that we provide sensitize students and parents to the tragically low K-12 student performance of African American students. Through the plethora of published research, we are able to paint a clear picture of performance outcomes for African American students during their P-16 journey from elementary school through college graduation. While the data is tragic for the entire group, only 10 percent of African American males are proficient in reading by 8th grade.

Beyond the raw data are research studies pertaining to the “anti-intellectual” peer culture many African American students find themselves confronted with where it is not cool to be black and smart. However, with over 60 percent of African American ACT-test takers enrolling into a postsecondary institution following their high school graduation, there is a very important context to frame all of this data in discussions with parents and their children,

“Only 5 percent of African American students are college-ready,
while 60 percent of African American students are pursuing college!
Subsequently, rather than languishing over the 95 percent
who are not college-ready at the end of 12th grade,
let’s focus on what we must do for the 60 percent
who are going to enter college! Placing the data into
such a context can lead to some very remarkable initiatives.”

Training Workshops

While the information workshops serve as a catalyst for parents and students to accept a proactive role in closing the gap between African American students and other subgroups, the training workshops provide the necessary guidance in closing the gap and expanding students’ college options. By drawing on the immense college knowledge and professional capacity of our church members, we offer workshops in essay writing, résumé development, interviewing, course planning, leadership, community service, choosing right summer camps, marketing students to top colleges, college and scholarship research, and college application packaging.

Academic Celebrations

In much the way as other communities make a big deal about athletic competitions, we make a big deal about academic achievement. We publicly acknowledge students in grades K – 12 who earn a 3.0 GPA or higher through 2 bi-annual academic celebrations. Students earn an academic achievement medal, their names are printed in the church bulletin, they are publicly acknowledged via a PowerPoint presentation, their names are publicly called before the entire congregation, and they are publicly celebrated in a reception held in their honor.


To ensure that students who are inspired to do better can, and students who are doing well have the opportunity to pursue even more rigorous course work, we offer tutoring in math and reading.


To ensure that students in grades 3 – 8 are able to perform successfully on Georgia’s Criterion Referenced Content Tests, we offer two months of test prep sessions in reading and math.

The Next Episode

In response to well publicized research pertaining to the “college knowledge gap,” which indicates that many African American students and families lack sufficient information pertaining to college planning, college readiness, and college access, we work monthly with high school juniors and seniors guiding them through the college planning and financial aid processes. Through these efforts we have students who have been recognized as Gates Millennium Scholars, Posse Foundation Scholars, and have received full need-based and merit-based scholarships to some of America’s best colleges and universities.

College Fair

To ensure that students are exposed to the full spectrum of colleges and universities, we host an annual college fair where some 50 colleges and universities from local technical schools to some of the country’s most highly selective colleges and universities are represented. Over 2500 students and parents annually have the opportunity to expand their understanding of what it takes to be admitted and what level of student performance is required to be college ready.

College Panel Discussion

We host an annual college discussion panel of current college students from a broad range of public, private, technical schools, military service academies, selective, and highly selective colleges and universities who provide candid insight into how they got admitted, what they have to do to be successful, how much support their institution provide, the differences between PWIs and HBCUs, and what they wish they had done differently while attending high school.

College Tour

Beyond the college fair where students see brochures and listen to recruiters, we ensure that students are able to visit campuses and speak to admission officers face-to-face to further assist students in understanding what is required to be college ready and to be competitive in the college admissions process.

11th and 12th Grade College and Financial Aid Planning Cohorts

Our newest initiative is to work hands-on with 11th and 12th grade students and their parents to ensure that students are college ready, understand the many financial aid options and opportunities, and guided toward the right college choices based on each student’s unique need, gifts, talents, and circumstances.

High School Graduation Celebration

The annual high school graduation celebration provides a formal and very public opportunity to highlight where students have been accepted into college, how much money students have received in scholarships and institutional grants, and how successful students have been in their K-12 performance to ensure they are college ready.

All of these initiatives are in response to demographic subgroup data. Each initiative is led by a parent, educator, counselor, minister, or student who has accepted a role in increasing student outcomes. While anyone can look at student performance data and point the blame at schools, teachers, students, or families—it takes very special people to accept a personal role in changing outcomes. I believe that such special people exist within each church, fraternity, sorority, school, and community. Please contact us if you would like us to show you how to get started.

Contact us at: tcceducationministry@accessandequity.org

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