The Achievement Gap

Huge Differences in Graduation Rates

We have long known of the significant differences between the high school graduation and college enrollment rates of students from various racial groups. The NCAA Graduation Rate Data allows parents and students to review the 6-year graduation rates of regular students versus student-athletes, by race and gender, at all NCAA Division I, II, and III schools.

For example, the University of Georgia reports the following 6-year graduation rates:

  • 79 percent for all students
  • 59 percent for student-athletes
  • 57 percent for Black males
  • 39 percent for Black male student-athletes
  • 76 percent for Black females
  • 50 percent for Black female student-athletes

The overall Division I 6-year graduation rates are:

  • 62 percent for all students
  • 64 percent for student-athletes
  • 38 percent for Black male students
  • 49 percent for Black male student-athletes
  • 49 percent for Black female students
  • 63 percent for Black female student-athletes

The report also provides information regarding the number and racial makeup of scholarship recipients by sport. For example, at the University of Georgia, Blacks received 61 of the 86 football scholarships and 10 of the 12 basketball scholarships. Whites received 27 of the 29 Baseball scholarships and 27 of the 40 Track scholarships.

Reality Check!

The Wednesday, August 17 2011 edition of the Chicago Sun Times headline reads, “Illinois ACT scores: 3 in 4 NOT READY FOR COLLEGE.” However, the folk in Illinois may take some consolation in the fact that the same is true of student performance in most other states.

In a recent posting regarding the concept of “Backwards Mapping” I referred to student performance on the 2010 ACT. Unfortunately, there was little improvement in student performance on the 2011 ACT. English and Reading performance remained unchanged, Math performance increased 2 percentage points and Science performance increased 1 percentage point.

  • 66 percent of students were considered college-ready in English
  • 52 percent of students were considered college-ready in Reading
  • 45 percent of students were considered college-ready in Mathematics
  • 30 percent of students were considered college-ready in Science

The huge differences in the level of college readiness by race continued to be disappointing:

  • 41 percent of Asian students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
  • 31 percent of White students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
  • 15 percent of Pacific Islander students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
  • 11 percent of Native American students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
  • 11 percent of Hispanic students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
  • 4 percent of Black students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas

Although student performance is bad, it is worst when considered within the context of student postsecondary expectations. Following are the percentages of students demonstrating college-readiness in all areas and the percentages of students with aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher:

  • 41 percent of Asian students are college ready while 84 percent have aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher
  • 31 percent of White students are college ready while 85 percent have aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher
  • 15 percent of Pacific Islander students are college ready while 84 percent have aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher
  • 11 percent of Native American students are college ready while 78 percent have aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher
  • 11 percent of Hispanic students are college ready while 78 percent have aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher
  • 4 percent of Black students are college ready while 80 percent have aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher

Clearly, something is wrong! How can so many students go through high school with aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher and so few students are graduating from high school ready for college? Either our high schools are out of touch with what will be required for their students to succeed in college, our teachers are teaching students less than what their subjects require for students to be ready for college, or our children are out of touch with how they should be applying themselves in their high school coursework so that they are ready for college (which is what they are claiming to want). Perhaps there is a perfect storm in which all of these are true?

Nevertheless, as I previously posted,

“If you are a parent of an elementary and middle school student, then you should get copies of the ACT and SAT sample tests. Ensure that your child is being introduced to the type of problem solving, language, vocabulary, and core content necessary to perform well on either the SAT or ACT. Compare what your child is expected to know on the tests with what he or she is learning in school. As more schools focus almost exclusively on preparing your child for grade-level and standardized tests, your child may be short changed when it comes to developing the broad range of critical thinking and reasoning skills that he or she will need to ensure that he or she is ready for college.”

Download 2011 ACT Scores

 

Backwards Mapping

I have long proposed the concept of “Backwards Mapping”—or starting with a future goal and working backwards. For example, students with a future career goal should be working backwards by identifying the level of education and type of training needed to pursue such a goal, students who may not have a particular career goal, but who have a goal of attending college should be identifying what will be required to be admitted to the type of college they are interested in attending (i.e., highly competitive, competitive, traditional, or open enrollment), what will be required to graduate from high school, what will be required in middle school to gain access to the level of high school course work that will best prepare students for college, and the type of elementary school experiences that will best assist a student in identifying the unique gifts and talents that may one day pave the way to a college scholarship.

Most elementary and middle school students with a goal of attending college will have to take either the SAT or ACT. I have always thought it odd, how little school districts have prepared such college-bound students for performing successfully on the SAT or ACT. In 2010, for all high school seniors taking the ACT (who were planning to go to college), only:

  • 66 percent of students were considered college-ready in English
  • 52 percent of students were considered college-ready in Reading
  • 43 percent of students were considered college-ready in Mathematics
  • 29 percent of students were considered college-ready in Science

There were also huge differences in the level of college readiness by race, with no racial group having over 50 percent of students being considered as college-ready:

  • Only 39 percent of Asian students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
  • Only 30 percent of White students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
  • Only 12 percent of Native American students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
  • Only 11 percent of Hispanic students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
  • Only 4 percent of Black students (that is only 4 out of every 100 high school seniors) demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas

The type of thinking, reasoning, writing, and vocabulary needed to perform successfully on the SAT and ACT should be part of every college-bound student’s elementary-through-high school growth and development. Recently, the state of North Carolina announced that it is considering requiring all 11th-graders to take the ACT. However, we do not need for all 11th-graders to take the ACT—we already know how few 11th-graders are college ready. We need to engage more elementary and middle school students in the type of learning that will ensure, that, as 11th-graders, they will be prepared to perform well on the ACT and SAT, because we have done a good job preparing them for college.

If you are the parent of an elementary and middle school student, then you should get copies of the ACT and SAT sample tests. Ensure that your child is being introduced to the type of problem solving, language, vocabulary, and core content necessary to perform well on either the SAT or ACT. Compare what your child is expected to know on the SAT and ACT with what he or she is learning in school. As more schools focus almost exclusively on preparing your child for grade-level and standardized tests, your child may be short changed when it comes to developing the broad range of critical thinking and reasoning skills that he or she will have to draw upon as an 11th-grader taking the SAT or ACT, and, as a college freshman preparing for the next phase of his or her academic development.

Download 2010 ACT Scores

 

The importance of music on reading, speaking, and learning

In two Stanford University studies, researchers have demonstrated how important split-second processing of sounds is to speaking and reading. Researchers have learned that mastering a musical instrument improves the way the human brain processes parts of spoken language. Research findings indicate that:

  • People with musical experience found it easier than non-musicians to detect small differences in word syllables
  • They also noted that musical training helps the brain work more efficiently in distinguishing differences between rapidly changing sounds that are essential to processing language
  • Musical training increases perception of sound pitches and verbal memory

Potential applications of the research are:

  • Improving speech processing in children stuggling with language and reading skills
  • Assisting seniors experiencing a decline in speech perception and verbal memory skills
  • Assisting people learning a second language
  • Improving the acoustic and phonetic skills needed for learning language and reading

The National Association for Music Education notes a broad range of benefits to students who have access to music education:

  • Secondary students who participated in band or orchestra reported the lowest lifetime and current use of all substances (alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs)
  • Many colleges view participation in the arts and music as a valuable experience that broadens students’ understanding and appreciation of the world around them
  • Schools with music programs have significantly higher graduation rates than do those without programs (90.2 percent as compared to 72.9 percent)
  • Students in high-quality school music programs score higher on standardized tests compared to students in schools with deficient music education programs
  • Students of music outperform non-arts students on the SAT
  • Nearly 100 percent of past winners in the prestigious Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science, and Technology (for high school students) play one or more musical instruments
  • Children in music training had significantly better verbal memory than students without such training
  • Young children who take music lessons show different brain development and improved memory over the course of a year
  • Playing a musical instrument significantly enhances the brainstem’s sensitivity to speech sounds

Read the report…

Unfortunately, current educational policy contributes to widening the achievement and college enrollment gaps between our children. Children from low-performing and low-income communities have less access to musical training, and instead attend schools oftentimes focused almost exclusively on raising test scores. In contrast, children from upper income communities, or who attend high-performing schools, are exposed to a broad range of vocal and instrumental music training. Subsequently, such children, through enhanced musical exposure, develop the cognitive, verbal, and memory skills that enable them to achieve higher test scores without having a specific focus on increasing test scores. Their resulting higher test scores, higher academic skills, and broader cultural and artistic exposure significantly expand their college and career options.

Our younger son has enjoyed learning to play the piano and guitar, although he did not begin formal lessons until the ninth grade for guitar and the tenth grade for piano. His tenth grade piano recital of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 17 in D minor Movement 3 “Tempest,” is a wonderful example of that adage, “It’s never too late.”

For those parents and students who find themselves stuck in low-performing schools or in schools with limited access to music programs, consider exploring opportunities through the music ministry at local faith organizations, after school programs, and summer camps.