Data Use, Technology, and Educational Leadership

Reduce the racial achievement gap: keep testing in perspective

Continuing in my summer treat of (re)reading research, I just finished an article by a team at Stanford led by Geoffrey L. Cohen. It was called Reducing the Racial Achievement Gap: A Social-Psychological Intervention. I am reminded that although some schools attempt to “motivate” students via pithy slogans around “beating the test,” that’s not all that school is about. In fact, it’s not even all that good data use is about.

Negative stereotypes and stress around school can hurt performance. But what happens when students are asked to reflect upon things that make them feel special (values, family, skills, etc.)? This was tested in a few different ways, but the short version is that student achievement improves. In these experiments the gap in GPA between African American and white middle school students was reduced by up to 40%. Certainly, one could imagine building upon this research using other measures of achievement or other educational settings. For example, Cohen has also found similar effects for female college students in science courses. European studies have looked at the benefits of reflecting about one’s ancestral lineage.

Maybe instead of “psyching” ourselves up for the big test, what we need is to put things in perspective. Testing and achievement are important, but the implication from these findings is that these ends might be served by reducing stress around testing and by otherwise helping kids understand their own intrinsic worth. And to bring this back to data use, let’s remember that there are lots of different kinds of information that can be made available to teachers. Some of the most exciting schools I’ve visited are those that find ways to blend different kinds of academic achievement data with formal data about students aspirations and interests. In this way, things like community service, culture, and family also get woven into curriculum and into school celebrations.

Other creative ways to help data use and student self-integrity work together? Feel free to leave comments.


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This entry was posted on June 26, 2012 by and tagged , .