by Henry Mann
Consider the classic tale: Five and six-year old students enter a kindergarten classroom. The background of the students varies in gender, race, ethnicity, class and so forth. As they progress through their academic journey together, their success within the classroom diverges and evolves. To what do we owe these transformations?
With the effectiveness of the U.S. public education under fire from all sides, the public has directed their attention upon the factors that influence student achievement with the hope of alleviating the ever-growing achievement gap.
Academic achievement is a relatively abstract term that refers to the extent to which a student has achieved their educational goals. Such a definition suggests that academic achievement is dependent upon the inherent motivation or intentions of the learner throughout his/her academic career.
The most obvious and measurable factor that has long been cited in order to explain the differences among the educational success of various groups of students is the socioeconomic status of the parents. However, only focusing upon such postulations inhibits a discussion of the variety of factors that play a role in academic achievement.
Regardless of the standard by which achievement is perceived, a multitude of factors influence a student’s scholarly success that are less measurable yet no less important than the socioeconomic background of the student.
To begin with, research has shown that the individual characteristics of each child, such as gender, race, ethnicity, effort level, self-concept and learning difficulties, have a significant impact upon the student’s performance within the classroom.
Discounting the influence of parents upon their children would be disregarding years’ worth of psychological research. There is a strong correlation between the educational background of a child’s parents and the child’s academic performance.
Parents who have received higher levels of education tend to instill within their children the importance of education, which impacts the student’s inherent motivation, personal goal-setting and overall approach to schooling.
Furthermore, children whose parents have pursued higher education tend to have higher expectations placed upon them, which influences the child’s view toward education and their overall academic achievement.
Such assertions do not discount the influence of socioeconomic status upon student achievement. Research has shown that by the age of three, children living in economically disadvantaged households have vocabularies that are significantly smaller and less developed than children in more affluent households.
While many attribute the achievement gap to the inadequacies or weaknesses of particular schools or districts, research shows that the disparity lies in the fact that some students enter school lacking the knowledge and skill levels of their counterparts, which places them at a disadvantage from the outset.
Would equalizing the socioeconomic status of every child in the public education system result in an equalization of the student’s educational performance? Is it even realistic to speculate on such ideas? The real question lies not in how one can influence the socioeconomic status of the students, but rather how one can impact the academic achievement of all students, regardless of their economic background.
Despite the strong link between socioeconomic status and academic achievement, a substantial research base indicates that children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds can succeed in a learning environment that has been structured to ensure that appropriate supports are available to students as a means to supplement the disparities that may exist when children enter the classroom.
What do these supports look like? Environment plays the first part. Classrooms that employ highly trained teachers and staff that have received extensive training in young adolescent development, diverse instructional practices, and current learning theory can impact students’ overall achievement. Exposure to high-quality instruction contributes to students’ overall academic achievement.
Extensive research also suggests that parental involvement constitutes a significant part of students’ academic success. The nature and extent of parental involvement in a child’s learning offers an explanation for the differential patterns of achievement among students.
Finally, the demands placed upon the educational system as a result of a technological society participating in rapid globalization have increased the emphasis placed upon the early development of skills in children. Therefore, encouraging the early education of children in basic learning habits, communication skills, and problem-solving behaviors will ensure that children enter the educational system equipped with the proper attitude to achieve.
Rather than boiling down student achievement to one test score that appears to be impacted by the specific economic background of the students, consider the multitude of factors that play a part in students’ overall academic accomplishments throughout their educational careers.