Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Connecting Pieces of the Puzzle: Gender Differences in Black Middle School Students' Achievement

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Connecting Pieces of the Puzzle: Gender Differences in Black Middle School Students' Achievement

Article excerpt

In this article, the authors explore the sources of gender variations in African American middle school students' academic performance. The roots of Black males' underachievement are of particular interest. Because middle schools are essential links in the sequence of opportunities to learn, it is imperative to understand the social and educational forces that influence academic outcomes for this age group of adolescents. The authors examine the contributions of family, school, and individual factors to academic outcomes. Using survey research data gathered from a representative sample of middle school English classes in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School (CMS) system, the article investigates how the various factors contribute to academic outcomes as measured by students' North Carolina End-of-Grade (EOG) standardized test scores. Findings indicate that although there are no gender differences in achievement in 2nd grade, differences become evident by middle school, with females obtaining higher test scores and grades than males. Although prior achievement and track placement affect all students in expected ways, males' test scores are more likely to be affected by peers, educational attitudes, school structure, and school climate. Females' test scores are more likely to be influenced by family socioeconomic status and cultural capital. The article shows how 8th-grade Black males' lower level of academic performance begins to take shape and to align in ways that foreshadow the disappointing school outcomes associated with older Black male students.

Like all American students, African American children's school performance ranges from exemplary to weak. Parents, policy makers, and educators are keenly aware that African American student achievement is, on average, lower than that of Whites and Asians. The within-race gender gap among African Americans increasingly garners attention because although the race gap is closing (National Center for Education Statistics, NCES, 2001), persistent lower performance is particularly evident among males (Boyd-Franklin & Franklin, 2000; Garibaldi, 1992; Majors & Billson, 1992; NCES, 2001; Polite & Davis, 1999).

The race and gender-gap in Black students' academic performance begins to appear during middle school (Davis & Jordan, 1996; Ford, 1992; Ford & Harris, 1992; Greene, 2001). This article explores the sources of variation in Black adolescent students' academic achievement during middle school. It is important to examine the forces that shape gender differences in Black adolescents' school performance, because the academic literature suggests that Black males are among the most "at-risk" for suspensions, poor grades, and dropping-out segment of any school population (Davis & Jordan, 1996; Ferguson, 2001; Polite & Davis, 1999; Schott Foundation for Public Education, 2005; Stewart, 1999). Students who experience poor school outcomes are unlikely to obtain a quality education, a necessary, albeit insufficient, condition for maximizing life's opportunities (Davis & Jordan, 1996; Ferguson, 2001; Irvine, 1990). This article demonstrates that by middle school, the pieces of the underachievement puzzle are beginning to take shape and to align in ways that foreshadow the disappointing school outcomes associated with older Black male students. Because middle schools are essential links in the sequence of opportunities to learn, it is imperative to understand the social and educational forces that influence the middle school academic outcomes of Black male students.

Using survey data collected from eighth-grade middle school English classes in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School (CMS) System, this article explores three categories of factors that influence academic achievement. The first category is school-level factors, including, teacher qualifications, academic climate, and school racial composition. The authors anticipate that students who have less-qualified teachers, who attend segregated schools, and who learn in schools with a weaker academic climate will have lower academic outcomes. …

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