First, I would like to provide some information on the organization. The Urban Elementary School, a public educational entity located in Norfolk, VA, was the educational site for this study. 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.
Since the majority of students in the Elementary school are African Americans, the school illustrates how the problem of underachievement of minority students affect Virginia. 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 Elementary school, the SOL scores also demonstrated a significant gap in the academic achievement of minority and white students. 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). Thus, the problem of academic underachievement is evident among the minority students of the Elementary school.
The problem under analysis for this research was the low SOL scores of minority students in the Urban Elementary school. In other words, the applied research addressed the problem of the achievement gap between minority students and their white counterparts.
The purpose of this applied research study is to provide recommendations to the administrators and teachers of the Urban Elementary School with possible solutions to the problem of low Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) scores of minority students.
The research was guided by the central research question: “How can the problem of low SOL scores of minority students in the Urban Elementary Schools in Virginia be solved?”
In order to answer the question, a literature review was conducted to overview the current body of knowledge concerning strategies for addressing the achievement gap between minority students and their white counterparts. After that, a mixed method research was planned to be conducted to understand the stakeholders’ vision concerning the most suitable strategies for addressing the problem.
The research included qualitative and quantitative parts.
The first data collection method utilized for the present study will be conducting semi-structured interviews with school authorities to collect insights about how the problem of low SOL scores can be solved. A total of five interviews will be conducted to understand the views on the issue from different angles. The participants will include teachers from grades 3-5 (third through fifth grades) and the school’s instructional coach.
Purposeful sampling will be used. Each participant will be asked to reply to ten questions.
The second data collection method will be a focus group. A focus group with eight participants will be conducted. Purposeful sampling will be used to include the most experienced teachers of specific grades in corresponding focus groups. The focus group discussion will be conducted on the school campus with an allocated time of 90 minutes. A total of 10 questions will be discussed.
The data will be analyzed using thematic analysis. The interviews and focus groups will be taped and transcribed. Transcripts will be examined for codes, and Codes will be arranged into themes.
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 will be 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 the urban 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 the frequency of responses as well as mean, median and modal data to provide insight into participant experiences.
The analysis of data from all the data collection methods led to similar themes. These themes can be summarized in five major problems that contribute to the achievement gap in the urban school.
First, teachers do not take into consideration the cultural differences if children in their instruction. There two reasons for such culture-insensitive instruction practices. On the one hand, the teachers in the school are mostly Caucasian, and they do not understand the cultural peculiarities of the minority students. On the other hand, the instructional staff do not have enough knowledge and skill to be able to diversify their instructional methods to meet the needs of the minority students.
Second, teachers have biased perception of minorities’ abilities to learn. As a result, teachers do not treat the minority students fairly, which, in turn, leads to low academic achievement.
Third, minority students experience significant social and economic difficulties, which distracts them from learning.
Fourth, parents of the minority students are not as involved in the education of their children so the parents of White children. As a result, the minority students do not experience the same amount of control and support as their White counterparts.
Fifth, the results of this research that the curriculum is not adapted for the minority students. As a result, the level of interest of the minority students decreases, as they cannot relate to the material discussed during classes.
The central research question of the study was, “How can the problem of low SOL scores among minority students at an urban elementary school be solved?”
The results of this research helped to formulate five recommendations for reducing and improving SOL scores among minority students in the school.
First, the administrators are recommended to conduct diversity training among the instructional staff to decrease teacher bias and help them understand the differences in situations that minority students face in their lives. The need for diversity training among teachers was suggested by both the literature review and the results of this study. The interviews revealed that teacher bias was one of the most frequent themes among the participants concerning the reasons for low achievement among minority students. In particular, the participants stated that since the majority of instructional staff are Caucasians, they have preconceived opinions about the abilities of minority students due to the inability to understand the socioeconomic and cultural differences between the minority students and their White counterparts.
Second, the school authorities are recommended to provide extra-curricular reading courses for minority students to improve their reading skills. The suggestion of extra-curricular reading courses is associated with the concern that the current curriculum is not adapted for cultural minorities. The analysis of data received from all three data collection methods suggests that the current curriculum is meant for Whites only. It does not accommodate the cultural differences of minorities. The findings of this research suggest that minority students of Urban Elementary Schools experience significant social-economic pressures that reduce their ability to learn, which is supported by findings of previous research for other schools. Moreover, the findings of this research suggest that minority students often lack parental support. Since administrators cannot change the core curriculum on the local level, it can help minority students by providing extra-curricular courses. Reading skills were mentioned as one of the major problems of minority students. Thus, organizing extra-curricular reading courses is expected to improve the current situation with the SOL scores of minority students in Urban Elementary Schools.
The third recommendation is to conduct instructional training among teachers to help them learn culture-sensitive instructional practices for minority students. The problem with instructional training was also cited as one of the central issues associated with the achievement gap between minority students and their White counterparts. In particular, the results of the survey demonstrated that instructional practices in school may have been the central reason for low achievement among minority students. The interviews also suggested that the instructional practices are not tailored to the needs of minority students. Thus, conducting instructional training among teachers will help them learn to diversify instructional practices to meet the special needs of cultural minorities and is expected to reduce the achievement gap among minority students and their white counterparts.
The fourth recommendation is to collaborate with teachers and the community to address the needs of minority students outside school. This study suggests that it is crucial to use the resources available in the community to improve the academic achievement of minority students. This study suggests that the current lack of parental support negatively affects students’ academic achievement. Moreover, this study suggests that the lack of African American community in the area is one of the reasons for the lack of support for the families. Therefore, administrators should try to involve parents in their children’s learning process. Moreover, administrators should try to use all the community resources to help the families overcome any social, economic, or health problems they face to improve the achievement of minority students.
Finally, the administrators are recommended to advocate for changing the curriculum for elementary schools t accommodate the needs of minority students. This study suggests that the curriculum should be changed to acknowledge the socio-economic difficulties of minority students and help them relate to the material the study at school. Moreover, this study suggests that administrators should advocate for reducing the importance of SOL testing and changing the test’s format, as many students are not prepared for taking long tests from physical, emotional, and psychological viewpoints.
Resources and Funds
Diversity training will require financial resources. According to website, which is the website of one of the diversity training providers, diversity training costs around $1,250 per seminar. Considering that the school will need at least 3 such seminars, the approximate accounting cost of the endeavor is $3,750. However, there are also implicit costs, such as the lost time in teachers’ work, if the administrators decide to conduct training during the working time of teachers.
Extra-curricular reading classes will be conducted for all grades (1-5) two times a week in two groups. This implies that at least 20 hours of working time will be needed to provide the courses. This will round up to approximately $2,500 per month plus any hiring costs that will be needed if the school decides to hire a teacher for these courses.
Additional instructional training may be conducted online. The average instructional training course is expected to cost around $50 per teacher. Since there are 40 teachers in the Urban Elementary School, the overall cost of the initiative will be around $2,000 plus any implicit costs associated with the lost productivity of teachers during the training process.
No additional resources are required for collaborations with local community services. All the collaborations will be conducted within the regular budget of the school.
Advocating for curriculum change will not require any explicit financial resources. However, the administrators and teacher may want to use some materials, like posters and brochures to promote the idea of curriculum change among colleagues and decision-makers. However, the overall cost of such material is unlikely to be above $500.
Roles and Responsibilities of Stakeholders
- Administrators. The role of administrators in organizing the diversity training programs will be to select the courses among the available courses in the area provided by third parties and create a schedule so that all the teachers can attend the courses in time. The administrators may also choose to develop unique diversity training courses to tailor them for the local peculiarities.
- Teachers. The role of teachers will be to attend these courses and use the knowledge they receive during their classes. The teachers need to acknowledge the personal biases they may have toward minority students, learn how they affect their everyday practice, and try to transform these practices and attitudes in the best interest of the minority students (Bowman et al., 2018).
- Administrators. The role of the administrator in organizing the extra-curricular reading classes it to ensure there are enough teachers for these activities. The introduction of additional courses may involve hiring instructional staff to ensure that the teachers are not overwhelmed with new responsibilities, which will be associated with HR-related costs. Additionally, the administrators should schedule these courses so that it is convenient for all the stakeholders and advertise the courses to the children and their parents to maximize the benefits of the endeavor.
- Teachers. The roles of teachers will be to identify the students that are in most need of the additional reading practice. The instructional staff will also be responsible for teaching the reading classes and assessing their effectiveness.
- Administrators. The administrator will be responsible for elaborating a plan for collaboration with the local authorities and instructing the teachers about the goals and methods for collaborating with teachers. In particular, the administrators will determine what community resources are available for families with different social and economic problems and disseminate the knowledge about it among all the families of children studying at the Urban Elementary School in need of such support. The dissemination strategies may include sending emails, notes with children, phone calls, or meetings (Epstein, 2018).
- Teachers. The role of teachers will be to collaborate with the parents to improve the academic achievement of students. In particular, the parents will be responsible for assessing the needs of students and parents and helping them to overcome their problems in communication or external problems by referring the parents to the relevant community services. The teachers will also be responsible for helping the administrators in disseminating the knowledge about the community services available for families in difficult life situations.
- Administrators. The role of administrators in organizing the instructional training programs will be to select the courses among the available courses in the area provided by third parties and create a schedule so that all the teachers can attend the courses in time. The administrators may also choose to develop unique diversity training courses to tailor them for the local peculiarities. One of the possibilities may be contacting the Virginia Board of Education to assist the school in instructional training with methodological support.
- Teachers. The role of teachers will be to attend these courses and use the knowledge they receive during their classes. The teachers need to learn how to tailor their instructional practices for the minorities students and ensure that they use this knowledge to help the students improve their academic achievements.
Advocating for Curriculum Change
Administrators and Teachers. The role of the administrators and teachers in this endeavor will be similar, as they have a similar influence on the decision-makers concerning the curriculum. The suggested advocating strategies are listed below:
- Determine who are the curriculum decision-makers and build relationships with them;
- Conduct an official curriculum review to determine how culturally responsive the current curriculum is;
- Explore best practices concerning the lessons plans that promote diversity practices;
- Participate in curriculum meetings and promote books and materials that can be recommended in the new curriculum;
- Create presentations that explain the reasons for the curriculum changes;
- Create and sign petitions for curriculum and SOL changes in the area.
Implications of the Solution
A total of three implications of the research were identified. First, the recommendations provided by this study give practical solutions for the problem of the achievement gap tailored for the Urban Elementary School in Norfolk County, Virginia. These recommendations are expected to improve SOL scores of minority students, increase job satisfaction of teachers, and boost interest in learning among minority students.
The evidence provided in this research can be applied to other school settings as a baseline, as other schools may have similar problems.
This research also provided a comprehensive summary of the literature on the topic of the achievement gap and academic achievement of minority students, which can be used in future research.
The effectiveness of the recommendations will be evaluated using both qualitative and quantitative methods. The data will be collected before and after the implementation of the program. The evaluation will compare SOL scores and teacher satisfaction rates before and after the intervention. Moreover, interviews will be conducted with the teachers to assess the effect of the program on the achievement of minority students. Any statistically significant improvement in SOL scores or teacher satisfaction, along with positive responses from teachers in the interviews, will be seen as a success of the program.
The purpose of this applied research study was to recommend to the administrators and teachers at Urban Elementary School in possible solutions to the problem of low SOL scores of minority students in this school. The problem that this research addressed was that African American students at the urban elementary school historically had lower academic achievement than other students, as measured by SOL scores. First, the paper provided five recommendations for the administrators of the Urban Elementary School and provided detailed justification for them. Second, the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders were described for every recommendation. Third, the required resources for every initiative were described. Finally, the paper provided timelines for the implementation of all the recommendations. The research established the importance of diversity training, extra-curricular reading classes, additional culture-sensitive instructional training, collaboration with parents and the community, and advocating for the curriculum change to improve the SOL scores of minority students in Urban Elementary Schools.
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