Science Achievement Gap Starts Early

Science achievement gaps in U.S. students still persist in eighth grade and show no evidence of narrowing. These gaps, unfortunately, follow recent data trends that show ELL students, African American students, and children under the poverty line scoring below their White and higher-income counterparts. A new study from researchers at Pennsylvania State University and University of California, Irvine, proposes that the gap exists beginning in kindergarten and may be directly related to opportunity gaps within the U.S. school system.

“Children who are from traditionally marginalized groups attending U.S. schools are more likely to be provided with lower-quality educational experiences, including attending underfunded and lower-resourced schools where they are often taught by inexperienced teachers and/or those with lower expectations for the children’s achievement,” write the study’s authors. “Children from these groups also experience many opportunity gaps prior to school entry, including lower access to high-quality child care and preschools and the resulting informal learning opportunities and achievement gains that these settings can provide.”

The results suggest key areas for policymakers and schools to address.

  • Reducing racial and ethnic segregation in U.S. schools as a possible method for addressing achievement gaps
  • Increasing  the provision of early intervention efforts in science—particularly for at-risk populations
  • Providing multifaceted and coordinated early interventions to increase opportunities for children who are at risk to learn about the natural and social sciences as well as about emergent literacy and numeracy, and to acquire attention and other self-regulatory behaviors, may need to be delivered prior to or immediately following school entry.

Read, “Science Achievement Gaps Begin Very Early, Persist, and Are Largely Explained by Modifiable Factors,” Paul L. Morgan, George Farkas, Marianne M. Hillemeier, and Steve Maczuga, Educational Researcher, Vol. 45 No. 1, pp. 18–35 (2016)


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