The problem discussed in the present report is low academic achievement of minority students in Granby Elementary as measured by Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) test scores. The purpose of this report is to provide recommendations to the administrators and teachers with possible solutions to the problem of low SOL scores of minority students at Granby Elementary School. Granby Elementary School in Norfolk, VA, provides education to 581 students, among which 77.3% are minority students. The minority students demonstrate significant gaps in achievement in comparison with their White counterparts in reading, writing, and mathematics. The rationale for the study was that it is crucial to reduce this achievement gap to improve self-efficacy of minority students, boosted workplace satisfaction of teachers, and increased the financing of the school. The research was guided by the question, “How can the problem of low SOL scores of minority students in Granby Elementary School in Virginia be solved?” Three types of data were collected to answer the research question. First, five interviews were conducted with teachers and authorities of Granby Elementary. Second, a survey was administered by teachers. Finally, a focus group was conducted with a purposeful sample of teachers and authorities.
Permission to conduct research
Permission to conduct research was obtained from the principal of Granby Elementary School. The permission also allowed using the information available about Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) test scores.
Ethical practices for applied research require minimizing risks for participants. Therefore, the researcher ensured that participants did not have to endure more than minimal risks. Pseudonyms were during the focus group and interviews to protect the privacy of participants. Even though the interviews and the focus group were conducted on campus, it was ensured that no outside person could overhear the discussion. The survey did not collect the names of participants. The information about the SOL scores was taken from sources available online. All the information concerning the research was stored in a password-protected laptop with installed antivirus software. The research aimed at solving a specific problem at a specific location. Therefore, the information will not be shared or distributed outside Granby Elementary. Therefore, Institution Review Board approval (IRB) was not needed.
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 associated 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 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 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 know relevant to the topic. Second, a Likert scale survey will be developed to understand how the problem of low standardized test scores among minority students in Granby Elementary can 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, two focus groups will be created. 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 – is 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 – tests that require students to answer the questions from a pool of questions and consistently grade them to inform the teachers about the level of achievement of a student (Herman & Golan, 1993).
The purpose of this study is to provide recommendations to solve the problem of low SOL scores of minority students in Granby Elementary School in Virginia. The present portion of the report provides a review of the literature concerning the research problem. First, literature concerning the historical background about the achievement gap in the US is provided. Second, reasons for the emergence of the achievement gap in standardized tests are discussed. Finally, the section provides an overview of strategies that can be used to reduce the achievement gap between minority students and their White counterparts in public schools.
Achievement Gap in K-12
The problem of the achievement gap between African American students and their White counterpart is a matter of heated discussion among scholars, policymakers, and educators. African American students are also more likely to drop out of school than any other group of students (Bowman et al., 2018). Quantitative studies also confirmed that there were significant differences in test results of students of different cultural identities on all educational levels. For instance, the results of a study by Wang et al. (2020) revealed that African Americans had lower performance in both subjects in comparison with Caucasian students. The achievement gap is dangerous not only for African Americans but also for the wellbeing of the entire nation, as it spreads inequality.
Reasons for Achievement Gap
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). The researchers suggest that all stakeholders need to change their perception of education. Thus, the reasons for the achievement gap are diverse and need to be addressed systematically.
One of the central suggestions made by Bowman et al. (2018) is that racism is one of the central factors contributing to the achievement gap. The researchers claim that generations of illegal and illegal deprivation of human rights have not gone unnoticed in the relationships between White and African American students (Bowman, 2018). Black students living in poverty are forced to deal with toxic stress, which includes violence, neglect, inconsistent care, and unloving adults (Bowman et al., 2018). Thus, socio-economic factors add to the achievement gap.
The link between discipline and academic achievement is a widely-discussed topic. Pearman et al. (2019) conducted large-scale quantitative research using nationwide data to assess correlations between the achievement gap and achievement gap. On the one hand, the study revealed that there was a significant correlation between Hispanic-White discipline gaps and Hispanic-White achievement gaps (Pearman et al., 2019). On the other hand, larger Black-White discipline gaps were found to have larger Black-White achievement gaps (Pearman et al., 2019). However, the causal relationships were not determined.
While it is generally believed that psychological factors may affect the achievement of students, recent studies have challenged this idea. In particular, Dixson et al. (2017) conducted a quantitative study that inspected the influence of several psychological factors on the achievement of African American students. The results of the study demonstrated that psychological constructs, including grit, growth mindset, ethnic identity, and other group orientation had no significant effect on academic achievement of high-performing African American high school students after controlling for age, sex, and socio-economic status (Dixson et al., 2017).
Inadequate curriculum leads to at least two factors that contribute to the achievement gap between Black and White students in K-12. On the one hand, African American students cannot relate to the stories told in the history classes and writing studied during literature lessons (Dahir, 2019). This leads to a loss of interest in studies, which eventually leads to decreased academic performance (Dahir, 2019). On the other hand, African American students start to picture their cultural identity as a vulnerability or misfortune (Wiggan & Watson-Vandiver, 2019). Even in the predominantly Black schools, teachers fail to take the opportunity to narrate the history of the US from the perspective of the lived experiences of African Americans. Thus, teachers and students have low self-efficacy, which harms the academic achievement of students.
Overview of Strategies for Addressing the Achievement Gap
Numerous strategies were developed to address the problem of the achievement gap among students. For instance, Bowman et al. (2018) provide a list of recommendations, including training of teachers in cultural literacy, working in partnerships with families, setting high expectations while acknowledging cultural differences, and planning for the prevention of difficult behavior. Hill (2020) explored the opinions of family members of minority students and concluded that staff should genuinely care for all students, utilize diverse instructional methods to meet the individual needs of students, and create healthy, inclusive environments for the integration of cultural diversity. Goddard et al. (2017) concluded that the promotion of collective efficacy among teachers could help to close the achievement gap. The importance of cultural diversity was also mentioned as a critical success factor by Wang et al. (2019). Dahir (2019) offered a strategic approach to the problem by promoting the pragmatic cultural model, which allows African Americans to develop their identities while attaining the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in mainstream society. In summary, there are multiple approaches to the problem of the achievement gap discussed among scholars, educators, and policymakers.
The literature review revealed that the achievement gap in the US is a significant problem. The most evident reasons for the achievement gap are associated with the difference in the social-economic status of minorities and their White counterparts, discipline gap, and inadequate curriculum in schools. At the same time, psychological constructs, including grit, growth mindset, ethnic identity, and other group orientation, did not affect the achievement gap. Research suggests that the problem of the achievement gap can be addressed by training teachers, diversifying instruction methods, ensuring health environments, promoting collective efficacy, and promoting a pragmatic cultural model.
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. In particular, the section discusses interview procedures, interview questions, focus group procedures, focus group questions, survey procedures, and survey questions.
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 (first through fourth grades) 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. Interview transcript responses were examined for codes based on related content. Each code was evaluated for frequency across the interview sessions. These codes were then categorized into main themes. A total of ten interview questions were asked to answer the research question. All the questions were created with reference to current literature.
- How do you think standardized test scores help measure 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.
- 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 every individual student. This question was a utility question that helped participants to take the research and the problem seriously.
- 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.
- 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 a student’s academic achievement (Bowman, 2018). However, this problem can hardly be addressed by the faculty and administration of Granby Elementary.
- 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.
- How do you think psychological factors affect SOL scores in Granby Elementary?
- This question continues 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 helps to clarify the matter.
- 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 helps to understand if discipline is a significant factor that affects SOL scores of minority students in Granby Elementary.
- What strategies do you think are most effective for improving minority students’ SOL scores in Granby Elementary?
- This question helps to gather general information about the possible strategies that can be used for solving the problem of low test scores of minority students in Granby Elementary.
- How do you think the school can improve minority students’ SOL scores through instructional improvement?
- The question helps 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.
- 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.
Focus Groups Procedures
The second approach to data collection is discussions in focus groups about strategies that may improve SOL test scores among Granby Elementary students. A focus group with eight participants will be conducted. The focus group was offered to discuss the strategies in general and then concentrate the attention level on different grade levels. Purposeful sampling was used to include the most experienced teachers of specific grades to corresponding focus groups. The focus group discussion was conducted on the school campus with an allocated time of 90 minutes. The discussion was recorded and transcribed right after it was over. Everyone was informed about the ongoing recording, and informed consent was acquired. The transcript was examined for codes. All the codes were evaluated in terms of frequency and arranged into themes.
Before the start of the focus group session, all the participants were informed about the purpose of the focus group, and a list of questions was printed out for everyone so the participants have an idea of the spectrum of questions the focus group needed to discuss. The group moderator was in charge of generating as many ideas as possible and helping the participants move from one question to another. The questions for the focus groups are provided in the following section. All the questions were grounded in current literature.
Focus Group Questions
- What is the attitude of teachers in Granby Elementary towards standardized tests?
- The question aimed at understanding if the teachers believed that standardized testing was a proper measure of achievement of students. Teachers may believe that improving student achievement and improving stargazed test scores are weakly correlated since people are forced to study for tests instead of learning material (Williams, 2005). Thus, the question aimed at establishing a baseline for further discussion.
- How do you think ethnicity affects the academic achievements of students in Granby Elementary?
- The question aims at determining how the focus group feels about ethnicity affecting academic achievement. Some teachers may believe that its other factors, like socioeconomic status, are the reason minority students underperform in schools (Liu et al., 2020). Thus, the group participants may believe that it would be improper to discuss strategies for improving the SOL scores of minority students.
- Why do test results of minority students need to be improved?
- The question returns the participants to the benefits of improving test scores for different stakeholders. The group moderator will help the participants to touch upon benefits for students, teachers, school administration, and the community. The replies to the questions are expected to motivate the participants to be more involved in the following discussions.
- What do you think are the major reasons for the achievement gap between minority students and their White counterparts in Granby Elementary?
- Bowman et al. (2018) covered at least four major factors that affect the academic achievement of minority students, including the curriculum, cultural differences, poverty, and racism. The group discussion can reveal other factors that may affect the academic achievement of minority students.
- Which of the listed factors have the most significant effect on all grade level students in Granby Elementary?
- This question aims at narrowing down the problem to a specific grade level (each focus group will discuss a different grade level). The preferred result for the discussion of this question is the creation of a list of reasons that have the most effect on every grade level.
- What are the strategies for improving the SOL test scores among minority students in Granby Elementary?
- Oakes et al. (2017) claim that some of the most effective strategies for improving academic achievement among elementary school students are the promotion of integrated student support, expanded learning time and opportunities, family and community engagement, and collaboration and effective leadership practices. The groups will be offered to discuss these four strategies in more detail.
- Which of the strategies discussed today are most appropriate for improving SOL test scores of students from grade levels three through five in Granby Elementary?
- This question aims at helping the participants to focus on the specific grade levels and single out the most appropriate methods for addressing the problem of low academic achievement of minority students in specific grades in Granby Elementary.
- How can instructions be improved in all the grade levels of Granby elementary to improve minority students’ test scores?
- This question further narrows down the topic to understand how the problem can be addressed using instructions. Shamir et al. (2019) claim that modifying instruction can improve the academic achievements of students. However, different schools may have different problems, which means that there are no universal decisions. This question helped to gain school and grade-specific recommendations from the professionals.
- How can the curriculum be modified on every grade level to improve the test results of minority students?
- The question helps to focus on the changes in the curriculum that can be implemented in Granby Elementary. King (2017) states that curriculum may be the central issue for minority students as they cannot relate to the stories they are reading. However, there are limited changes to the curriculum a school can make. Therefore, the focus group may help to single out the alternatives.
- What can the school do to increase parental involvement of minority students?
- Oakes et al. (2017) provide significant evidence that parental involvement has a positive impact on students’ achievement. This question is designed to help to find strategies that can increase parental involvement, which can potentially improve SOL test scores of minority students in Granby Elementary.
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 was 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 Granby 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. Moreover, inferential statistics may be used, such as regression analysis, correlation analysis, and t-tests.
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