The Relationship between Verve and the Academic Achievement of African American Students in Reading and Mathematics in an Urban Middle School

Article excerpt

Since its inception, the United States has struggled with its responsibility for educating African American students (Anderson, 2005; Carter, 2003; Green; 2001; Haycock, 2001). Its history of denial and discrimination in the education of Black children has created a national crisis in which academic difficulty and school failure is disproportionately high (Achilles, Finn, & Gerber, 2000; Ferguson, 2001; Green, 2001; Lee, 2002). Given almost any educational measure used to predict academic success, such as: (a) standardized test scores; (b) college and high school Grade Point Averages (GPA); and (c) graduation and dropout rates, African American students across the nation do not achieve academically at the same rate as their European American counterparts (Banks & Banks, 2004; Gordon, 1999; Green, 2001; Irvine & Armento, 2001; Jencks & Phillips, 1998; Kober, 2001; Lee, 2002). This academic lag, often referred to as the achievement gap, exists regardless of social economic status (SES), gender, or national geographic location (Clark, 1983, 1988; Ferguson, 2001; Gordon, 1999; Haycock, 2001; Kober, 2001; Lee, 2002; Singham, 1998). The educational reports by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (U.S. Department of Education, 2001) indicated the trend of this academic achievement gap for the years 1971-1999 between African American and European American students. On an average, over these 28 years, 17-year-old African American students scored 36-points lower than European American students in reading, while over the years 1973-1999, they scored 30-points lower on assessments of mathematics achievement.

In an effort to improve the education of African American students, mounting evidence suggests that cultural aspects of students' learning styles can impact achievement levels in classrooms (Hollins, 1996; Irvine, 2003). One cultural aspect that was highlighted by Boykin in the 1980s and is gaining renewed attention is verve. By definition, verve is the propensity for energetic, intense, stylistic body language and expression (Boykin, 1983). According to Boykin (1977, 1983, 2001), verve is a definite component of learning style for African American children. However, only a small body of research exists that has indicated there is a relationship between verve and increased academic achievement among students of color (Guttentag, 1972; Shade & New, 1993; Willis, 1989).

The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between verve and the academic achievement levels of selected African American middle-school students in reading and mathematics in an urban setting. Therefore, this study was designed to answer the following research questions: (a) Were verve levels different between African American and European American students?; (b) Were verve levels different among males and females?; and (c) Was there a relationship between verve and the academic achievement of African American students in reading and mathematics? To focus on verve does not diminish the importance of other aspects of the schooling experience. Certainly, macro systems (i.e., resources, tracking programs, and curricula), as well as micro systems (i.e., instruction and teacher interactions) are pertinent. However, with the increasing emphasis on culture and culturally responsive teaching and pedagogy (Ladson-Billings, 1995; 2006), there is great value in understanding more about verve and the academic achievement of African American students.

Culture is a major, if not the primary factor, affecting the development of learning styles (Brodzinsky, 1985; Hollins, 1996; Irvine, 2003; Shade & New, 1993). How learning styles develop depends on the culture that has been modeled and reinforced by childrearing practices (Anderson, 1988; Banks & Banks, 1993; Hale, 1982; Ishii-Jordan & Peterson, 1994; McIntyre, 1992; Owens, 1987; Phillips, 1983). Upon entering school, students attempt to gather and process incoming information through strategies that have been rewarded previously in their home or community (Anderson, 1988; Jenkins, 1982; Smith, 1993). …