Student Success Skills: A Promising Program to Close the Academic Achievement Gap for African American and Latino Students

Article excerpt

Academic achievement data from four previous Student Success Skills (SSS) studies were aggregated and examined to determine if there were differential effects in improved test scores among White, Latino, and African American students. Results showed that posttest scores for the treatment group were significantly higher than the comparison group in math as well as reading. There were no interactions or main effects for ethnicity. White, Latino, and African American students showed similar gains after SSS participation.

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African American and Latino children continue to lag behind their White counterparts in nearly every academic subject (Haskins, 2004; Roach, 2004). This unfavorable reality has researchers and policy makers asking questions about the immunity of the academic achievement gap and the existence of effective methods to counteract it (Morgan & Mehta, 2004; Romney, 2003). Obed, Charles, and Bentz (2001) indicated that the "perennial challenge for urban education in the United States is finding effective ways to address the academic achievement gap between African American and White students" (p. 1). Today, their sentiments resonate louder in light of the continued presence of the achievement gap between African American and White children, and a demographic shift that shows Latinos close to surpassing African Americans in numbers (Bok, 2003; U.S. Census Bureau, 2001).

In this article, we refer to children as African Americans when they are Americans of African descent, but are not Latino or Caucasian. We refer to children as Latino when they are of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race. When we cite specific statistics in this article, the descriptor of ethnicity (e.g., Hispanic versus Latino or Black versus African American) reflects the original source.

According to the National Education Longitudinal Study (Ingels et al., 1994), on average, Blacks and Hispanics score lower than Whites in reading and math at the end of eighth grade. A more recent review of academic outcomes continues to reflect significant differences in achievement related to ethnicity, with 39% of White, 12% of Black, and 15% of Hispanic students deemed proficient in reading by the U.S. Department of Education (2005) at the end of eighth grade. In math, 39% of White, 9% of Black, and 13% of Hispanic students were deemed proficient at the end of eighth grade (U.S. Department of Education).

Several efforts have been successful in increasing academic achievement and several interventions have proven effective in closing the academic achievement gap. Notably, a report of the National Study Group for the Affirmative Development of Academic Ability (Bennett et al., 2004) indicated that the most effective approaches to arrest the academic achievement gap may be those that represent a comprehensive and multifaceted tactic. In this study we examine the Student Success Skills program (SSS; Brigman, Campbell, & Webb, 2004; Brigman & Webb, 2004) as an effective intervention to close the academic achievement gap for low-achieving students, a disproportionate number of whom are African American and Latino students, and examine the differential effects of the SSS intervention related to ethnicity.

In previous studies (Brigman & Campbell, 2003; Brigman, Webb, & Campbell, 2007; Campbell & Brigman, 2005; Webb, Brigman, & Campbell, 2005), the SSS program was effective in improving academic performance and closing the academic achievement gap for low- to mid-range-achieving students. Two of the aforementioned studies used experimental designs with random selection and random assignment of students to the SSS program (treatment) and comparison groups. This design is considered the "gold standard" of research design by the U.S. Department of Education (2003) for determining if a particular intervention is responsible for improved outcomes. …