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Good News About Reducing the Achievement Gap

Working paper describes success of an intensive dual-pronged intervention

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January 29, 2014 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A report published yesterday (Jan. 27) by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) challenges the conventional wisdom that it is too late to improve the academic outcomes of at-risk students once they have reached adolescence.

In a randomized controlled trial of 106 high school students receiving “high dose” academic tutoring and mentoring, University of Chicago Urban Education Lab researchers found that the two-pronged -- academic and behavioral -- intervention closed nearly two-thirds of the average gap in math test scores between white and black students. In addition it increased by one-half the likelihood that these students were “on track” to graduate.

That’s the equivalent of what the average American high school student learns in math over three years, according to Jonathan Guryan, a Northwestern University economist who co-directs the Urban Education Lab and is one of nine co-authors of the NBER working paper.

“In addition to gains in achievement test scores, we also saw improvements in engagement with school, including an increase in attendance of about 2.5 weeks per year,” Guryan said. “The results of this study indicate that the combination of intensive tutoring and mentoring may be one way to narrow the black-white test score gap.”

Guryan is associate professor in Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy and a faculty fellow at Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research. He co-directs the University of Chicago Urban Education Lab, with his University of Chicago colleague Jens Ludwig, McCormick Foundation Professor of Social Service Administration, Law and Public Policy.

“There is far too little evidence of what interventions aimed at narrowing achievement gaps are both effective and cost-effective,” Guryan said. “The Urban Education Lab’s randomized experiment provides encouraging evidence that a strategy combining intensive tutoring and mentoring may be an effective intervention for students who are four to five years behind their grade level, particularly in math.”

The release of the new study coincided with an announcement by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Urban Education Lab that they will increase the number of Chicago Public School students participating in the intensive tutoring and mentoring program. Mayor Emanuel called the study “welcome news to students, teachers and families who have been working to tackle the achievement gap facing too many of our students.”

“This partnership with University of Chicago is part of a larger citywide strategy to invest in expanding access for youth to learning, mentoring and employment opportunities that will better ensure all of our students graduate 100 percent college ready and 100 percent college bound,” Mayor Emanuel added.

The intensive intervention described in the NBER paper was carried out during the 2012-13 academic year at Harper High School, located in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.

For further information, visit the Institute for Policy Research.

- This story was adapted in part from a University of Chicago news story.

Topics: Research