There’s a lot of research out there about a lot of things and sometimes it’s hard to figure it out what it all means. From measuring student achievement to comparing access to higher education between student groups and everything in between, there is a lot of data and research available that is not always easy to interpret. Furthermore, research can often be manipulated to have it mean something specific. That is why we sometimes have to take research with a grain of salt. That being said, I think it is also important to stay on top of research and data that is pertinent to the field of education in an effort to stay as informed as possible about the work we do. I know it might not sound like the most exciting thing in the world to look at and try to interpret research, but I think it can really help us understand issues that exist within the field of education and their background in relation to the types of students we work with.
I recently came across the following article, “Black And Hispanic Students Are Making Meaningful Gains, But It’s Hard To Tell”. This article discusses research that shows that black and Hispanic students have indeed made progress on a national assessment that measures math and reading skills. I know what you’re thinking, looking at charts and data is so exciting! Okay, maybe you’re not thinking that. While it might not be material that is keeping you on the edge of your seat, I think it can definitely be interesting and helpful in providing some insight into a topic like the achievement gap that exists between different populations of students. At first glance it may not look like these populations of students have made significant progress, but as the article suggests we sometimes have to look a little deeper. Understanding the research is all in the details and the context. The article explains that the only reason it may not seem like black and Hispanic students have made gains is because this population of students is growing, making it seem like their overall average is lower instead of showing gains over time. The article also points out that while efforts have been made to close the achievement gap between white and minority students there is another bigger problem, which is the widening socioeconomic gap between rich and poor students. My hope in sharing this information is to provide a positive outlook at what we sometimes look at as a hopeless situation – the continuing existence of achievement gaps. While minority students still lag behind white students, we can feel hopeful about the progress being made over time.
So what does this all mean for the work that we do as educators? That’s the tricky part. A lot of the time research is just information that is presented to us without any clear explanation about what to do with it. The article itself talks about how this research is meant to be viewed as an indicator, as information that has been collected about where these students stand, and is not necessarily meant to inform something like education policy. It goes back to the idea that you can use research to mean what you want it to mean; to support a specific agenda for example. In the end, all we can really do is ask questions – questions about how the research available is being used and whether it is being used appropriately. We can make sure that we do not become blind consumers of numbers and charts. You can start asking yourself, does everything you read about research in the field of education really mean what you think it means?
By Maria Rodriguez