First, I would like to provide some information on the organization. The Urban Elementary School, a public educational entity located in Norfolk, VA, was the educational site for this study. The school currently has 581 students, among which 59.2% are African American, 22.7% are white, and 8.1% are Hispanic (Virginia Department of Education [VDoE], 2020a). Almost 97% of the students qualify for free or discounted lunch, which demonstrates that the majority of students are from financially disadvantaged families (VDoE, 2020a). In terms of students’ success and quality of education provided, School Digger (2021) rates the school 996 among 1,105 elementary schools in Virginia.
Since the majority of students in the Elementary school are African Americans, the school illustrates how the problem of underachievement of minority students affect Virginia. According to the Virginia Department of Education (VDoE, 2020b), African Americans have lower average scores on achievement tests. In particular, in Virginia, the average SOL scores of Whites were 86 in reading, 85 in writing, 91 in history and social sciences, 86 in mathematics, and 89 in science (VDoE, 2020b). At the same time, African Americans scored 67 in reading, 65 in writing, 75 in history and social sciences, 68 in mathematics, and 69 in science (VDoE, 2020b). The average scores of African Americans in all subject areas were lower by 20 points. In the Elementary school, the SOL scores also demonstrated a significant gap in the academic achievement of minority students and their White counterparts. In 2019, the SOL reading score of Whites was 79, while African Americans’ proficiency level was 56, and Hispanics’ proficiency level was 67 (VDoE, 2020a). Thus, the problem of academic underachievement is evident among the minority students of the Elementary school.
The problem under analysis for this research was low SOL scores of minority students in the Urban Elementary school. In other words, the applied research addressed the problem of achievement gap between minority students and their white counterparts.
The purpose of this applied research study is to provide recommendations to the administrators and teachers of the Urban Elementary School with possible solutions to the problem of low Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) scores of minority students.
The research was guided by the central research question, which was “how can the problem of low SOL scores of minority students in the Urban Elementary School in Virginia be solved?”
In order to answer the question, a literature review was conducted to overview the current body of knowledge concerning strategies for addressing the achievement gap between minority students and their white counterparts. After that, a mixed method research was planned to be conducted to understand what was the vision of the stakeholders concerning the most suitable strategies for addressing the problem.
The literature review provided an overview of the literature concerning the research problem.
First, the significance of standardized testing was discussed. The literature review revealed that even though standardized tests have its drawbacks, it remains the most reliable measure of academic success due to the lack of well-established alternatives.
Second, factors that affect academic achievement were discussed. All the factors were grouped into social, economic, personal, familial, and school-related.
Third, literature concerning the historical background about the achievement gap in the US was provided. Achievement gap was found to be a long-lasting problem taking its roots in the 1600s.
Fourth, reasons for the emergence of the achievement gap in standardized tests were discussed. The major reasons for achievement gap included racism, poverty, culture, access to education, discipline, psychological factors, and inadequate curriculum.
The final section of the literature review provided an overview of strategies that can be used to reduce the achievement gap between minority students and their White counterparts in public schools.
Improving instruction practices was found to be one of the most frequently cited strategies that can affect achievement gaps at school levels. Tailoring instruction for the audience was found to be central for reducing the achievement gap.
Teacher training is another crucial strategy that is expected to lower the achievement gap in public schools. Teachers need to be able to differentiate between the reasons for the insufficient academic achievement of students and utilize appropriate methods to improve learners’ outcomes.
The review revealed that developing an inclusive environment in the classroom is crucial for the success of minority students. Therefore, classroom environment needs to be structured, which implies that it should be a planned effort with predictable results.
A curriculum change can integrate all the strategies mentioned above and address the majority of reasons for the existence of the achievement gap. The literature review revealed that even though progressive educators have started to build cultural identity in African American students, their efforts were non-systematic, which led to inappropriate practices.
The research included a qualitative and a quantitative parts.
The first data collection method utilized for the present study will be conducting semi-structured interviews with school authorities to collect insights about how the problem of low SOL scores can be solved. A total of five interviews will be conducted to understand the views on the issue from different angles. The participants will include teachers from grades 3-5 (third through fifth grades) and the school’s principal.
Purposeful sampling will be used. Each participant will be asked to reply to ten questions.
The second data collection method will be a focus group. A focus group with eight participants will be conducted. Purposeful sampling will be used to include the most experienced teachers of specific grades to corresponding focus groups. The focus group discussion will be conducted on the school campus with an allocated time of 90 minutes. A total of 10 questions will be discussed.
The data will be analyzed using thematic analysis. The interviews and focus group will be taped and transcribed. Transcripts will be examined for codes, and Codes will be arranged into themes.
The final approach to data collection will be a survey that will include a total of 14 questions, including four demographic questions and ten content questions. The survey will be conducted using Survey Monkey, as the service provides basic statistical analysis and does not require much experience to be used. A purposeful sample of 25 teachers from the urban Elementary will be invited to complete the survey. The invitations will be sent via email with a link to the survey questions. The emails will also include a brief description of the study, including its purpose and methods. The participants will also be offered to sign an online form of consent. The sampling method will be used as it will help to make generalizations out of a relatively small sample (Etikan & Bala, 2017). The survey data may be analyzed using frequency of responses as well as mean, median and modal data to provide insight into participant experiences.
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