By Motoko Rich, The New York Times, originally published on 1/26/14
By the time they reach eighth grade, according to federal tests, half of all African-American schoolboys have not mastered the most basic math skills that educators consider essential for their grade level. A new paper being released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests a promising approach for helping the most challenged students, who often arrive in high school several years behind their peers.
The study, which was conducted by a team led by Jens Ludwig, the co-director of the University of Chicago Urban Education Lab, provided a program of intense tutoring, in combination with group behavioral counseling, to a group of low-income ninth- and 10th-grade African-American youths with weak math skills, track records of absences or disciplinary problems. Those students learned in an eight-month period the equivalent of what the average American high school student learns in math over three years of school, as measured by standardized test scores, over and above what a similar group of students who did not receive the tutoring or counseling did.
The study was conducted in 2012-13 in a randomized trial comparing groups of male students at W. R. Harper High School, an impoverished neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, a site of frequent gang violence. Of the 106 teenagers in the study, all but one were eligible for free or reduced lunch and about one-quarter of them had received a diagnosis of a learning disability.
In addition to the test scores, far more of the students in the program met indicators of being on track to graduate from high school on time than their peers who were not given tutoring or counseling.
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