The purpose of this applied research study is to provide recommendations to the administrators and teachers with possible solutions to the problem of low Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) scores of minority students at Granby Elementary School. The present section provides background information about the organization, introduces the problem, discusses its significance, and declares the purpose of the study. This section also states the central research question and lists the key terms utilized throughout the study.
Granby Elementary School, a public educational entity located in Norfolk, VA, was the educational site for this study. The mission of Granby Elementary School is to “ensure that all families and students are engaged in purposeful learning, students are using metacognition and comprehension strategies across all curriculum areas to ensure life-long learning” (Granby Elementary School, n.d., para. 1). 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. The student-to-teacher ratio has dropped for three consecutive years since 2017, reaching 13.5 in 2020 (VDoE, 2020). In 2019, the school’s SOL scores in both mathematics and English reading were below the county’s and the state’s averages (VDoE, 2020).
Introduction to the Problem
The problem is that African American Students at Granby Elementary have historically demonstrated lower academic achievement as measured in SOL scores. The education gap is a considerable issue in the United States that came to the attention of educators and policymakers more than half a century ago (King, 2017). Gilar et al. (2019) describe academic achievement as the extent to which a student achieved short-term or long-term educational goals. Academic achievement is usually quantified using test scores of grade point averages (GPAs) depending on the situation. The achievement gap is dangerous not only for African Americans but also for the wellbeing of the entire nation, as it spreads inequality (King, 2017).
The problem of the achievement gap is present in Virginia, which was confirmed by Standards of Learning (SOL) scores. 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 Granby Elementary, the SOL score 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). Similarly, in mathematics, the Whites’ level of proficiency was 74 against 60 Hispanics and 61 of Blacks (VDoE, 2020a). Thus, the problem of academic underachievement is evident among the minority students of Granby Elementary.
Significance of the Problem
The problem of low SOL scores of minority students in Granby Elementary is crucial. As mentioned previously, the majority of students (77.3%) in Granby Elementary belong to an ethnic minority. Thus, the underachievement of minority students in the school has a significant impact on the average achievement of students in the school. According to Lanese (2018), teachers and schools are evaluated based on the results of standardized test scores, such as SOL.
Higher scores in standardized testing are associate with increased funding from the government (Lanese, 2018). Increased funding can result in schools hiring new teachers and teacher assistants, which can further increase the achievement of students. According to Hemelt et al. (2021), teacher assistants have a positive influence on math and reading test scores in elementary schools. Thus, improved results of minority students’ scores on SOL tests can increase the prestige of the school and improve the level of workplace satisfaction of teachers. As a result, the retention of teachers can be improved. Additionally, improved test results can increase self-efficacy of minority students, which will promote positive relationships within classrooms.
The purpose of this study is to provide recommendations for solving the problem of low SOL scores in Granby Elementary. The research will utilize a multimethod approach using both qualitative and quantitative methods. First, five semi-structured interviews will be conducted with teachers and administrators who have knowledge relevant to the topic. Second, a Likert scale survey will be developed to understand how can the problem of low standardized test scores among minority students in Granby Elementary be solved based on the perceptions of the stakeholders. A sample of teachers will be asked to complete the survey in Google Forms.
Descriptive statistics, correlation analysis, and multiple regression will be used to assess the appropriateness and feasibility of the provided recommendations based on teachers’ opinions. Third, be a review of documents from the Virginia Department of Education focusing on Granby Elementary and Norfolk school district students’ performance over the last five years on the SOL. The results of the analysis will be evaluated in light of the findings of previous research.
Central Research Question
How can the problem of low SOL scores of minority students in Granby Elementary School in Virginia be solved?
- Academic achievement – “the communicative (oral, reading, writing), mathematical, science, social science, and thinking skills and competencies that enable a student to succeed in school and society” (Lindholm-Leary & Borsato, 2006, p. 176).
- Achievement gap – “academic performance difference between Whites and minorities” (Carpenter, Ramirez, & Severn, 2006, p. 116).
- Assessment – can refer to the process faculty use to grade student course assignments, to standardized testing imposed on institutions as part of increased pressure for external accountability, or to any activity designed to collect information on the success of a program, course, or University curriculum (Lteef, 2019, p. 2).
- High-stake testing – “tests that carry serious consequences for students or educators” (Marchant, 2004, p. 2).
- Intervention – a set of steps a teacher takes to help a child improve in their area of need by removing educational barriers (Lynch, 2019, para. 2).
- Minority students – “those who do not belong to a region’s or nation’s majority racial or ethnic group — may be subject to discrimination, whether sanctioned or passive, that can affect their educational achievement” (RAND, n.d., para. 1).
- Standardized testing – test that require to answer the questions from a pool of questions and graded in a consistent manner to inform the teachers about the level of achievement of a student (Herman & Golan, 1993).
The purpose of this applied research study is to provide recommendations to the administrators and teachers with possible solutions to the problem of low Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) scores of minority students at Granby Elementary School. The school under analysis is a small-scale educational entity in Norfolk Country, VA, with almost 60% of students being African American. The present section provides a detailed description of procedures that were used to collect data for further analysis.
The first data collection method utilized for the present study was conducting semi-structured interviews with school authorities to collect insights about how the problem of low SOL scores can be solved. The interview questions helped the researchers to learn about the perceptions of stakeholders about the reasons for low SOL scores among minority students and strategies that can be employed to improve these scores.
A total of five interviews were conducted to understand the views on the issue from different angles. The participants included teachers from every grade level (grades 1-4) and the school’s principal. Purposeful sampling was used to select the information-rich sources participants, which is crucial for mixed-method research (Palinkas et al., 2015). The participants were selected according to their experience of working with minority students, the number of years in Granby elementary, and the level of trust among the faculty.
Every interview followed the standard protocol of semi-structured interviews described by Creswell (2012). All the interviews were conducted on the school campus after the classes for approximately an hour. All the participants were asked ten interview questions consecutively, and the provided answers were recorded and carefully transcribed for further analysis. Additional clarification questions were asked in the course of the interviews when they were needed. Thematic analysis was performed after the data was collected to identify valuable ideas. A total of ten interview questions were asked to answer the research question.
Question 1. How do you think standardized test scores are helpful for measuring the achievements of Elementary School students?
The question was used to understand the attitude of teachers towards standardized tests as a measure of achievement. Williams (2005) notes that many teachers believe that standardized tests do not measure academic achievement accurately, as tests promote studying for tests rather than studying for knowledge. The answer to this question helped to understand the level of bias towards standardized testing.
Question 2. Why are SOL test results important for Grandy Elementary and its students?
This question aimed at helping the interviewees to think about the importance of SOL test results for the school in general and for every individual student. This question was a utility question that helped to participants to take the research and the problem seriously.
Question 3. Why do you think the achievement gap between minority students and their White counterparts exists in Granby Elementary?
The question helps to identify the reasons for the existence of the achievement gap in Granby Elementary. Numerous studies aimed at assessing the reasons for the gap in the academic achievements of students. A recent article by Bowman et al. (2018) addressed the problem systematically by assessing several factors simultaneously. The results of the research revealed that developmental differences, poverty, racism, curriculum, cultural differences, and insufficient teacher training lead to the appearance of the achievement gap (Bowman et al., 2018). Additionally, frontiers in current curriculum development acknowledge that the current curriculum is predominantly White, which implies that history and literature are often overlooked (King, 2017; Johnson, 2018).
All these reasons are expected to be named by the interviewees. However, they may mention other reasons for the achievement gap, which will provide additional value for the research. Even if interviewees do not provide additional ideas, the insights will be crucial, as they will help to establish consistency with the current body of knowledge.
Question 4. Which of the issues that created the achievement gap can be addressed by the faculty and administration of Granby Elementary?
This question helps to narrow down the list of the problems so that they can be addressed in the future. For instance, socioeconomic status often has a negative impact on student’s academic achievement (Bowman, 2018). However, this problem can hardly be addressed by the faculty and administration of Granby Elementary.
Question 5. How do you think curriculum affects test scores of minority students?
This question starts a series of questions that help to focus on specific factors that contribute to low SOL test scores in Granby elementary. Dahir (2019) reported that African American students could not relate to the stories told in the history classes and writing studied during literature lessons. This leads to a loss of interest in studies, which eventually leads to decreased academic performance (Dahir, 2019). The question is designed to gather the opinions of the participants concerning the influence of curriculum on the achievement gap between Whites and minority students.
Question 6. How do you think psychological factors affect SOL scores in Granby Elementary?
This question continues to the series of questions that help to focus on the factor that can be addressed using the school’s resources to improve the SOL test scores of minority students. Dixson et al. (2017) found that the effect of psychological factors, such as grit, growth mindset, ethnic identity, and other group orientation, had no significant effect on the academic achievement of students, which was inconsistent with previous research. This question will help to clarify the matter.
Question 7. How do you think discipline affects SOL scores in Granby Elementary?
Pearman et al. (2019) found that there was a significant correlation between the achievement gap and the discipline gap among minority students. The question will help to understand if discipline is a significant factor that affects SOL scores of minority students in Granby Elementary.
Question 8. What strategies do you think are most effective for improving minority students’ SOL scores in Granby Elementary?
This question will help to gather general information about the possible strategies that can be used for solving the problem of low test scores of minority students un Granby Elementary.
Question 9. How do you think the school can improve minority students’ SOL scores through the instructional improvement?
The question will help to focus more on the instructional practices that can be changed to improve the test scores of minority students. Bowman (2018) states that aside from improving the curriculum, instruction perfection is crucial for closing the achievement gap between minority students and their White counterparts.
Question 10. How do you think the school can improve minority students’ SOL scores through collective efficacy?
This question is aimed to look closely at the problem of low collective efficacy in Granby Elementary and find strategies to address it to improve the SOL test results of minority students. Goddard et al. (2017) concluded that the promotion of collective efficacy among teachers could help to close the achievement gap; however, no specific strategies were offered to improve collective efficacy.
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