Can Technology Narrow the Black-White Achievement Gap?

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Closing the Achievement Gap: MissouriThe eMINTS instructional model ofinquiry-based teaching, combinedwith multimedia tools in theclassroom, improves test scoresfor all students.

Our fourth-grade classroomsbuzzed with students discussingtheir “Jefferson City or Bust”WebQuest (www.emints.org/info/bootheel/smithm/wq/jeffcity) as they neared the endof an intensive four-week project. Groupsof students had crafted arguments toconvince their local school board to allow afield trip to the state capitol so they couldexplore their state’s government in personand in depth.

Just one year before, a majority of thesestudents were performing at the lowestmeasured (“basic”) level in their communicationskills on the state test administeredto third-graders. Some observersattributed this performance to the“Black/African American” oval filled in bythe Missouri Assessment Program (MAP)facilitator on each child’s state test coversheet. Yet this same group demonstratedremarkable gains on their fourth-gradestandardized test results. Not only did theyimprove their test results, but these once“basic” students were now confidentlypreparing PowerPoint presentations andaccompanying letters to persuade districtadministrators and the school board thatthe class was ready, both financially andeducationally, for their proposed field trip.

To a large degree, the changes in thesestudents can be credited to the eMINTS(enhancing Missouri’s InstructionalNetworked Teaching Strategies; www.emints.org) program, a collaborativeeducational program that uses technologyto make a difference for children. Theprogram is sponsored by the MissouriDepartment of Elementary and SecondaryEducation and the University ofMissouri’s Office of Academic Affairs,andfocuses on the expectation that all studentscan reach higher levels of performance. Itincludes mechanisms for increasingquality parental involvement,and providesteachers with the professional developmentand in-class coaching needed toaccomplish significant changes in theirteaching practices.

Studying the Achievement Gap

NAEP results. A review of the NationalAssessment of Educational Progress’(nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard) resultsover the last 30 years reveals that the gapbetween black and white studentsnarrowed during the 1970s and into the’80s as black students made considerableimprovements, while the performance ofwhite students over this same timeremained mostly flat. However, the trendwas reversed during the latter part of the’80s and into the ’90s when the performanceof black students flattened out andwhite student performance improved(Jaekyung Lee, “Racial and EthnicAchievement Gap Trends: Reversing theProgress Toward Equity?” EducationalResearcher, 2002, www.aera.net/uploadedFiles/Journals_and_Publications/Journals/Educational_Researcher/3101/3101_Lee.pdf).

While some educational programshave produced measured gains for blackchildren, it remains unclear exactly whicheducational policies, programs, or practicesboth reduce the gap and sustain this reduction over time. However, theeMINTS program has undertakenrigorous external evaluation to determinethe effect of its components—multimediatechnology integrated into student-centered,inquiry-based teaching practices—on the black and white achievementgap,and research has proved that theprogram has been successful with a varietyof students.

MAP results. In one study of 39schools in the 2002 cohort, for example,evaluators examined the MAP scores ofstudents enrolled in eMINTS classroomsversus those enrolled in non-eMINTSclassrooms (Analysis of 2003 MAP Resultsfor eMINTS Students, eMINTS NationalCenter, 2004, www.emints.org/evaluation/reports/map2003.pdf). Among thefindings:

  • There were positive differences amonglow-income students enrolled ineMINTS classrooms. On the fourth grademathematics test, for instance,enrollment in an eMINTS classroomreduced the MAP score difference(attributed to student poverty) by abouthalf.
  • On the communication arts and mathematicstests, enrollment in an eMINTSclassroom reduced the score deficit forstudents receiving special-educationservices (as indicated by the presence ofan Individualized Education Program)by about half.
  • Students enrolled in a schoolwide TitleI school and an eMINTS classroomscored significantly higher on theircommunication arts tests than studentsenrolled in “targeted assistance” schoolsand students enrolled in a noneMINTSclassroom in a schoolwideTitle I school.

Cohort results. Another report, AnExploratory Study of the Black-WhiteAchievement Gap in eMINTS-Student GapResults (Douglas R. Hager, eMINTSNational Center, 2004, www.emints.org/evaluation/reports/gapanalysis.pdf),examines achievement data for black andwhite students by eMINTS enrollment forthree cohorts of participating schools. Itexamined schools which began implementingthe eMINTS instructional model during the 1999-2000, 2000-2001, and2001-2002 school years.

School districts applied to participatein the eMINTS program for each cohort,and upon acceptance they identified atleast one school where the program wouldbe implemented in at least two classrooms.These classrooms were then equipped witha prescribed suite of hardware and softwareproducts,including:

  • A teacher laptop and computerworkstation
  • A SMART Board interactive whiteboardand projector
  • A digital camera
  • Color and black-and-white printers
  • A scanner
  • One Internet-connected computer forevery two students
  • Software limited to Microsoft Office,Inspiration (concept mapping software)and an Internet browser

Comparing Data

Teachers in eMINTS classrooms participatedin a two-year process of professionaldevelopment and in-class coaching. Theprofessional development programemphasized inquiry-based teaching techniquesand creative uses of multimediatechnology. Use of Internet resources forstudent research in solving real-worldproblems was also a prominent feature ofthe professional development program.

Upon the teacher’s completion of thesecond year of professional developmentfor each cohort, researchers collected datafrom students enrolled in each eMINTSteacher’s classroom and compared theachievement of black and white studentson the MAP statewide tests. During theyears of the study, the MAP given in thirdgrade covered communication arts andscience knowledge and skills, while theMAP given in fourth grade covered mathematicsand social studies knowledge andskills. The data covered a three-yearperiod beginning in the 2000-2001 schoolyear (for the first cohort) and ending in the2002-2003 school year (for the thirdcohort).

A summary of the data concluded:“Analysis [in the study] presented evidencethat enrollment in an eMINTS classroom may improve performance on the MAPachievement examinations for both blackand white students as well as decrease thegap. … The average performance of blackstudents enrolled in eMINTS classrooms inthe FY01 and FY02 cohorts was considerablyhigher across all subject areas than theaverage performance of black students notenrolled, while the results for black studentsin the FY00 cohort were mixed. In the FY01cohort, those differences in average totalMAP score ranged from 7.6 points higher incommunication arts to 19.6 points in mathematics,and in the FY02 cohort, theyranged from about 12 to 13 points higherdepending on the subject” (Douglas R.Hager, An Exploratory Study of the Black-White Achievement Gap in eMINTS StudentGap Results, eMINTS NationalCenter, 2004, www.emints.org/evaluation/reports/gapanalysis.pdf).

Limitations. The data also found a fewlimitations to the study such as:

  • Small numbers of black students ineMINTS schools (e.g., in the 2001-2003cohort only 120 black students were availablefor inclusion in the fourth-gradegroup).
  • Due to the structure of the MAP, thereare no pre-test data to show howstudents performed individually beforeeMINTS enrollment.
  • There is insufficient information aboutinstructional practices in eMINTSclassrooms (beyond general information)to understand the causes of differencesin student scores.
  • Overall, there was a wide variance in thescores for black students.

Interpretations of the study and theanalyses contained in it led eMINTSprogram administrators and many participatingschool leaders to view the eMINTSinstructional model as a promisinginstructional intervention for blackstudents. For complete analyses of allcohort groups from 1999-2003, access thefull study online at www.emints.org/evaluation/reports.

Monica M. BeglauMonica M. Beglau, EdD, is director of theeMINTS National Center at the Universityof Missouri System’s Office of AcademicAffairs. E-mail: beglaum@emints.org

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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