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Differences in Academic Achievement in Students

Updated on January 27, 2017

The Differences in Academic Achievement

Closing the Gap in Academic Achievement
Closing the Gap in Academic Achievement | Source

Is There a Difference in Achievement?

Copyright 2008, Jennifer Tyler

Various studies (Meece, 2001; Espinosa, 1995; Griggs & Dunn, 1996; & Ford & Thomas, 1997) indicate that there are indeed differences between minority students and the majority culture in terms of achievement. For many years researchers and educators alike have been faced with the task of determining if differences do indeed exist and if so, why? Research (Meece, 2001; Espinosa, 1995; Griggs & Dunn, 1996; & Ford & Thomas, 1997) tends to indicate that there is indeed a problem, as achievement among minority students continues to remain well below that of the majority students. This is especially more prominent in the areas of math and reading. In fact, only one in ten minority students score at advanced levels on National Assessment. Such disparities are said to appear early on and then remain fixed until the time a student reaches high school (Meece, 2001). It is at this point that the gap significantly widens, which causes concern among parents and educators alike.

Such disparities have also been shown in other areas as well. Minority students are also more likely to score lower on tests, have lower graduation rates, have lower grades, be less likely to enroll in advanced courses, and have a lower enrollment in college (Meece, 2001). Most minority students are more likely to drop out of high school and have more instances of grade retention than their white counterparts. This is especially the case for minority males, who are more likely to drop out early on in their high school education (Meece, 2001). However, the greatest differences occur with Hispanic students, even surpassing African Americans (Meece, 2001). On the other hand, Asian students seem to do better in school than their white counterparts. According to Meece (2001), Asian students show higher graduation rates and graduate degree attainment than any other group.

In addition to lower graduation rates, minority students are more likely to experience minimal placement in gifted programs and higher rates of placement in special education classes (Meece, 2001; & Ford & Thomas, 1997). Although special education has grown to higher proportions within the last few years, minority students seem to be those students who predominate in such classes (Ford & Thomas, 1997). I fact, statistics report that there is a great disparity between minority students and majority students within such classes (Meece, 2001). Likewise, this group is more likely to experience lower placement in gifted programs. As a whole, minority students are under represented in gifted programs and advanced level classes (Ford & Thomas, 1997). However, of all minority groups, Asian students demonstrate the greatest levels of placement in advanced classes. They are more likely than any other group to be placed in advanced level math and science classes (Meece, 2001).

Why is There a Difference in Achievement Among Students?

Being that research indicates there is a difference in achievement between minority students and the majority group, the question then would be why does such a difference exist? Various reasons have been proposed as to why minority students do underachieve in all aspects of education. One common belief is that the majority culture stresses individualization, while most minority cultures emphasize group cohesion (Griggs & Dunn, 1996; Espinosa, 1995; Ford & Thomas, 1997; & Tharp & Yamauchi, 1994). This alone would tend to be a problem for students of a minority culture where cooperation is emphasized. When individualization is stressed in the classroom this creates distress for the student of a minority culture (Griggs & Dunn,1996). Minority students prefer working with another in order to achieve goals. When they work individually, conflict may occur.

Second, it has been speculated by researchers (Ford & Thomas, 1997 & Meece, 2001) that academic achievement for some minority groups is a feature of the majority culture, therefore minority students may not want to assimilate to that culture. Academic success among minority students may be devalued because it is associated as being a white value. This is particularly the case for African American students who are more prone to not wanting to be like the majority culture (Meece, 2001). African American students have been shown to develop identities which are in contrast to the majority culture, thus doing poorly on tests and in school. Academic success may be viewed as a white value, one which African American students do not want to become (Meece, 2001). As Ford & Thomas (1997) indicate, this causes the need for minority students to choose between group affiliation or academic success. The end result is that the minority student chooses to affiliate with their cultural group.

Next, when material is given to minority students that does not relate to their culture, they are less likely to perform well in the classroom (Tharp & Yamuachi, 1994). Information that is more relevant to the culture of the student is the information that is going to be well received. As a result, achievement may improve (Tharp & Yamuachi, 1994). In a study conducted by Tharp & Yamauchi (1994) Native American students were given both material which was relevant to their culture and material which was not relevant to their culture. Results of the study indicated that the students were more likely to participate and engage in activities when the material was relevant to their cultural background. When schools fail to provide enough culturally relevant material they are essentially saying that the minority and background of the student are not important. According to Meece (2001) school rarely create an environment which does foster diversity.

Finally, it is pertinent to consider how self esteem and self concept relate to the minority student. Ford & Thomas (1997) indicate that minority students as a whole tend to demonstrate lower self esteem and self concept which may indeed be a reason why they do so poorly in school. Of course, it is suggested that this may be due to the presence of educator expectations for minority students. Generally, educators hold lower expectations for minority students than they do for their white counterparts (Ford & Thomas, 1997). It is crucial to understand that this may cause the minority student to submit to the self fulfilling prophecy that he/she is not capable of doing well. When students are essentially told that they are not expected to do well, they will not perform up to a level which is consistent to the majority group.

How to Accommdate Achievement Differences in Your Classroom

If educators are aware of the cultural differences that they face in the classroom, the question then would be how can this need be accommodated? First, in order to accommodate differences in the classroom, educators need to be aware of their own beliefs and assumptions about other cultures. When they are cognizant of their own beliefs and assumptions, they will have students who experience success in the classroom (Meece, 2001). For the most part, educators have been lax at doing just that. Many times, educators fail to consider how their own beliefs may actually hinder them effectively delivering instruction to students of another culture. Researchers (Meece, 2001; Ford & Thomas, 1997; Feng, 1994; & Espinosa, 1995) indicate that there is a need for educators to be trained in multi-cultural education. Currently, such training is lacking.

Next, educators need to vary instruction more so that every student has the potential to succeed in the classroom. Educators fail to provide enough material which is relevant to the culture of all students in the classroom (Meece, 2001; & Feng, 1994). In order for students of another culture to feel comfortable in their environment, it is crucial to incorporate activities which celebrate and appreciate diversity (Griggs & Dunn, 1996). Doing so will ensure that all learners are accommodated, thereby increasing the chance for academic success. Research has shown that activities which include peer tutoring and activities which allow students to work together on class work have proven to be successful with minority students (Feng, 1994). Such a practice allows minority students to incorporate a value that is typical of their culture into the classroom, thus improving their investment in education.

Another important factor in educating the minority student focuses on values and morals that are common to the culture of significance. In many minority cultures family is of key importance and evidently plays a vast role in the education of the child (Feng, 1994; Griggs & Dunn, 1996; Meece, 2001; Espinosa, 1995). This, as Feng (1994), Griggs & Dunn (1996), Meece (2001), and Espinosa (1995) point out, is a problem in schools today. Educators often fail to adequately include the parent of a minority student like they should (Espinosa, 1995). By failing to do so is like setting the minority student up for failure. Families are an invaluable tool which educators need to rely on. Parents of many minority students prefer that they were informed if their child was doing poorly in school, as they will correct the problem promptly (Espinosa, 1995). This is especially the case if the problem deals with behavioral issues or disrespect.

Furthermore, there are certain guidelines which are suggested if educators expect to educate minority students effectively. Soto, Smrekar, & Nekcovei (1999) suggest the following:

1. Accept that the students are members of a diverse community.

2. Observe and be aware of the language capabilities of all students.

3. Provide enough opportunities for minority students to communicate with each other and with students of their own culture.

4. Plan activities which value the cultural identities of the students that are served.

5. Arrange the physical environment so that it reflects the different cultures of the students being served within the classroom.

6. Build the lines of communication between families and educators so that students will have the best opportunity for success.


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