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Novel Approach for Closing Achievement Gap Focus of New Study

Students in classroom.While ethnic studies courses have received negative attention in recent years in places such as Arizona, where a Mexican American studies course was banned in 2010, a new study on these classes has come out with a significant finding: they can help improve struggling students’ attendance rates and grades.

Researchers looked at outcomes for students taking ethnic studies classes at several San Francisco high schools and compared them to outcomes for similar students not enrolled in the classes. They found a 21 percentage point increase in attendance and a 1.4 point increase in GPA for ninth-graders assigned to take the course. The effects were especially notable for male and Hispanic students.

“What’s so unique about this program is the degree to which it helped the students who took it,” said Emily Penner, co-author of the paper and a post-doctoral researcher at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. “Schools have tried a number of approaches to support struggling students, and few have been this effective. It’s a novel approach that suggests that making school relevant and engaging to struggling students can really pay off.”

The study’s authors think the ethnic studies classes were likely successful in boosting students’ academic performance because they affirmed students’ identities and validated hardships students had experienced as members of minority groups.

The authors write that their findings indicate that “culturally relevant pedagogy can be extraordinarily effective in supporting the academic progression of struggling students.”

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