Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Conference: Community Colleges May Be Best Hope to Close Achievement Gap: Minority, Low-Income Students Continue to Be Left Behind Academically

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Conference: Community Colleges May Be Best Hope to Close Achievement Gap: Minority, Low-Income Students Continue to Be Left Behind Academically

Article excerpt

PRINCETON, NJ.

Community colleges are the "last, best hope" for closing the achievement gap for socioeconomically disadvantaged students, said the president of the Educational Testing Service during a two-day conference in Princeton, N.J. But community colleges will need help to meet the challenge.

Last month, ETS and the American Association of Community Colleges hosted "Addressing Achievement Gaps: How Community Colleges Contribute to Equity in Education and the Workforce," which attracted nearly 200 participants from colleges, foundations and organizations across the nation.

According to data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, reading scores for 17-year-olds narrowed dramatically for Black and Hispanic students between 1975 and 1988. Dora 1990 to 1999, however, gaps in reading and mathematics remained constant or grew slightly, and little progress has been seen since. More alarmingly, Black and Hispanic students' skills in English, math and science are about four years behind those of White students, according to the NAEP data, also known as the Nation's Report Card.

Theories on why the gaps continue to persist despite economic and civil rights gains for racial and ethnic minorities range from the low expectations of educators to watered-down academic offerings to a lack of interest by the students and their families in their schooling. The ETS conference, like recent public initiatives including the No Child Left Behind Act, focused on eradicating the gap, no matter the causes.

Dr. Michael Nettles, senior vice president of ETS' Center for Policy Evaluation and Research, noted that this is the organization's seventh conference on the issue of imbalanced outcomes in education, but it is the first to focus on it at the postsecondary level.

Nettles moderated an opening discussion between Kurt M. Landgraf, the president and CEO of ETS, and Dr. George Boggs, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges.

"We need to realize that the United States is in a serious holding pattern relative to educational attainment by its citizens," Landgraf told the educators. "We are leaving behind a larger and larger cohort of our students. We must do something, and frankly, the community colleges may be our very last, best hope, because you are dealing with the majority of the students that we have traditionally left behind. …

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