Expanding The Top Tier
College Board calls for ‘affirmative development’ to enlarge pool of high-achieving students of color
NEW YORK — Although considerable national efforts have been directed at bringing poor students and students of color up to minimal standards academically, little effort has been focused towards ensuring that African American, Latino, and Native American children achieve at very high levels, a new report from The College Board says.The result, The College Board report says, is that very few students of color “with the exception of those of Asian origin” can be counted among the nation’s high achievers, whether measured by the SAT, the Advance Placement tests, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, high school and college grades, or other standards. This is true even when the children come from middle-class families with college-educated parents, the report says. The report, titled Reaching the Top, and released Oct. 18, by The College Board’s National Task Force on Minority High Achievement, calls for a change to that situation by supporting research-based measures proven to boost the academic achievement of African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans.“This is not only a report,” says Stephanie Bell-Rose, a member of the task force and president of the newly formed Goldman Sachs Foundation, “but a call to action on an issue that is so fundamental to our American belief system that to ignore it would be beyond reasonable.”The task force — headed by Dr. Edmund W. Gordon, John M. Musser Professor of Psychology Emeritus, and Eugene H. Cota-Robles, professor of biology emeritus at the University of California-Santa Cruz — reviewed much of the recent research looking at the achievement gaps among ethnic groups, and concluded that the nation must focus on this issue because “America is a diverse society in which educational differences have the potential to become a progressively larger source of inequality and social conflict.”The report cites the economic gaps between students of color and White and Asian American students as one of the reasons academic gaps continue to exist. Well-off, educationally sophisticated parents “provide wide-ranging assistance to their offspring from infancy through college,” including reading to their toddlers, seeking expert assistance in diagnosing and treating learning disabilities in the primary grades, arranging for tutors when their children are having difficulty, pressing high school officials to let their children take college preparatory classes, and taking their children to visit colleges. “Few parents with little formal schooling and low incomes are in a position to provide these extensive supports,” the report says.But the report also says that prejudice and discrimination continue to affect students of color of all economic classes, particularly the “deeply ingrained belief among many members of the majority population that some minorities are less able to succeed in school for either innate or cultural reasons.” In addition, the report says, this may take a psychological toll on African American and Latino students themselves. The report cites the research of Dr. Claude Steele, a member of the task force, who has posited that African American students, knowing that their test scores will be used to measure the academic achievement of all African Americans, face what Steele calls a “stereotype threat,” which causes them to be nervous and do less well on tests than they would if such pressure did not exist. To combat the effects of all these pressures, the report calls for a plan of “affirmative development,” which has as its aim the active development of a large pool of high-achieving African American, Latino, and Native American students.“It doesn’t mean opening the door, it means developing the potential of these students so they can open the door themselves,” Bell-Rose explains.The report supports the continued research into educational practices that help all students to learn better. Specific programs it cited as proven in higher education were:* The Calculus Workshop at the University of California-Berkeley that enables promising underrepresented minority students to work in groups to go into much greater depth in calculus than would be permitted in a normal class situation. Most participating students earn As and Bs in calculus. The workshops, which are racially and ethnically integrated, allow students and faculty members to shed their negative stereotypes about African American and Latino students, and mobilizes the mathematics faculty to address minority achievement issues.* The Meyerhoff Scholars Program, founded at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, which is enabling many academically well-prepared Black students to achieve at very high levels in engineering and science and to go on to doctoral programs in large numbers. * Xavier University of Louisiana, which sends many of its undergraduate science majors on to medical school and graduate school in other health professions.“These programs are getting results for a number of reasons,” the report says. “They are concerned with both the academic and social development and integration of participating students. They stress scholastic excellence and encourage each student to do as well as he or she can. They place an emphasis on helping students succeed in their freshman year because a good start is essential for long-term success. … They help students build strong, academically oriented peer groups, through which students can work together on their studies. Strong student-faculty relationships are built and attention is given to providing good ongoing academic advisory services.”The report goes on to say, “None of these elements is surprising, but the devil, as always, is in the details. The most successful programs have been carefully engineered, and often have been modified, again and again, based on internal assessments of their results.”However, the report does show that achievement gaps begin very early in the school life of children. The authors call upon colleges and universities to actively engage in the work of elementary and secondary schools to lift the achievement levels of students, using programs with proven research behind them.Such measures include “making schools smaller in terms of enrollment, providing low student-teacher ratios in the primary grades, spending staff development money to help teachers learn to use a research-proven school reform or curriculum/instruction strategy, providing students with better educated teachers, and offering students an academically challenging curriculum,” the report says.Specific curricular programs cited in the report include:* Success for All, a whole-school reform program based in Baltimore and operating in hundreds of elementary schools around the country which has proved to be effective in raising the academic achievement of children.* The High School Puente program in California, which provides English courses, counseling and mentoring tailored to the needs of Latino students and which has helped many students achieve academically.* The Calvert curriculum, a private school curriculum which has been used successfully in two public elementary schools in Baltimore, bringing the scores of its students from the 20-30 percentile up to the 50-70 percent range in several academic areas.The report also called for schools, parents, and public officials to develop a high-quality extra-curricular program to enrich the academic experiences of African American, Latino and Native American students. For more information about the report, go to <www.collegeboard.org>.
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