Academic officials have said if they were able to clearly tell what puts their students at risk of academic failure they would be able to target solutions to help bridge the achievement gap. Recently, Educational Researcher released a study completed by the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education (Penn GSE) that could help make this a reality.
The study found that a large number of low-income children begin school with disadvantages like poor medical care, homelessness, and uneducated parents. This means these students not only struggle with schoolwork, but also can hurt the academic achievements of their classmates. The peer-reviewed study was led by John Fantuzzo and was conducted by the research team at the University of Pennsylvania. They studied more than 10,000 children grades K-3 who were enrolled in Philadelphia classrooms. In schools where a high number of children had "risk factors" the academic performance of all children was negatively affected
For example, researchers found that children who were homeless or mistreated disrupted their classrooms, pulling down reading achievement and attendance rates among children who were not homeless or mistreated. Along the same lines, schools filled with many students who did not receive adequate prenatal care had overall poor reading achievement, even among those children who did get prenatal care.
According to Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post, a complicated data system was created that combined information from Philadelphia public schools, social service agencies, and other public resources and examined the risks and factors that affect thousands of children from birth to current age. The system looked at records stored for thousands of third graders across Philadelphia to help with the study.
Third graders were chosen because third grade is the first time that children take state-mandated achievement tests, giving the researchers a consistent measure of academic performance. The data, which had been collected by public agencies over the children's lifetimes and even extended back before their births to the time of their mothers' pregnancies, enabled the researchers to use sophisticated analytic techniques to find the association between academic performance and various risks and protective factors over time.
Fantuzzo's research found that the accountability of schools might be too vague and unable to recognize the fact that "at risk" students can affect their peers. Researchers suggest a better accountability program that supports certain "at risk" children and intervenes when there is an issue. This would benefit the entire school. The findings concluded that poverty and race alone do not tell the complete story in regards to a student's educational well-being.