News Release Distributed 10/26/11
BATON ROUGE, La. – Socioeconomic status, rather than race, has the strongest effect on student achievement, according to a recent study conducted in the LSU School of Human Resource Education and Workforce Development.
Looking at data from 40,100 Louisiana students, researcher Johnny Morgan and Michael Burnett, director of the LSU School of Human Resource Education and Workforce Development, studied reading achievement of fourth-grade students in public schools across the state and found low socioeconomic status was the major factor influencing low reading achievement.
“Our study shows that even though African-Americans make up the highest number of low-socioeconomic households in the state of Louisiana, it is not their race that determines how well they read,” Morgan said.
It has been widely accepted that many African-American students get off to a slow start in school and never seem to catch up.
“Even if this has been the case, it is also true for other races in similar financial situations,” Morgan said. “If the parents of these children have to work extra jobs to make ends meet they are probably not taking their young children to the library.”
It’s also true that many of these children don’t have suitable literature to read in the home, he said.
“Most will have a phonebook and maybe a Bible, but these are not the easiest books for children to use when developing an interest in reading,” Burnett said.
Burnett, who is an advocate of smaller class size, said changes should be made in the classroom setting so these children can receive more individual attention.
“This study shows that quality reading programs need to be developed to foster a love for reading in these children,” Burnett said. “If we could develop the love of reading, we will move toward a solution to a lot of other problems in society.”
Burnett said he feels that in the lower grades, smaller class size is the key to success.
Morgan studied fourth-grade students in public schools across Louisiana to determine the influence of selected demographic characteristics on their reading ability.
“We looked at age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and geographic location,” Morgan said.
Of these students, more than 60 percent receive free lunch, which places them in the low-socioeconomic category. Previous studies show African-American students are three times more likely than those of other races to be in this group.
Studies also show that in America today the percentage of all students graduating with a regular diploma is approximately 70 percent, with African-American and Latino students having rates that are a full 10 percent lower, Morgan said.
“These are the same students who make the lowest scores on the standardized test,” he said. “This could be telling us that in addition to the socioeconomic issue, the tests are culturally biased and need to be examined to see if some adjustments can or should be made.”
The study findings indicate that African-American students scored lower than all other students on the reading, math and English language arts.
Morgan and Burnett are recommending that state-level administrators of educational programs in Louisiana should develop new courses that would provide remediation for students of low socioeconomic status to help them close the gap with the other socioeconomic groups.
This might include allowing these students to choose more books they would like to read in addition to the required readings, Morgan said.
There have been efforts to improve the literacy rate in the state, but no programs stand out as truly successful, he said. However, the LSU AgCenter’s Reading to the Heart program, currently being piloted in Madison and Rapides parishes, is making progress in creating a love for reading by providing books to fourth-grade students each month.
The program is administered through the LSU AgCenter 4-H Youth Development department and is designed to foster a love for reading in young children, Morgan said. Parents are encouraged to take their child to the library to get them a library card and familiarize them with the process of checking out books and reading for enjoyment.
“This is definitely a program that should be looked at for implementation across the state,” Morgan said. “We really don’t have a choice. The alternatives are building more prisons and experiencing more unemployment, more drug abuse and more teen pregnancy.”