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Conditions and strategies to support African-American student achievement — June 2018


What conditions and strategies have been shown to support African American student achievement?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on conditions and strategies shown to support African American student achievement in grades K–12. The sources included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

Research References

Bandy, T., & Moore, K. A. (2011). What works for African American children and adolescents: Lessons from experimental evaluations of programs and interventions. Washington, DC: Child Trends. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The disproportionate vulnerability of African American youth to certain negative outcomes, including teen pregnancy, low academic achievement, HIV infection, and violent death, has emphasized the need for out-of-school time program providers and funders to seek programs that have been found to have positive impacts for this population. Identification of ‘what works’ for African Americans is a critical step in furthering efforts to improve outcomes among this population. To meet this need, this literature review synthesizes findings from 53 random assignment experimental intent-to-treat evaluations of social interventions that specifically targeted African American children and adolescents, or intervention programs in which African Americans made up a substantial proportion of program participants and separate data about impacts for African American children and adolescents are available. The goal of this review is to identify programs that work, as well as those that don’t, and the intervention strategies that contribute to program success. Overall, 29 out of these 53 rigorously evaluated programs were found to have a positive impact on at least one child outcome (‘found to work’), of which 10 are manualized. Thirteen had mixed reviews, and 11 were not proven to work. Findings from these 53 studies of out-of-school time programs for African American children and adolescents are segmented by the outcome examined. While several themes emerge, the authors did not find any program or practice that worked across all outcome areas. Overall, they find that: (1) Programs that foster partnerships between the community and schools tend to work; (2) Strategies that garner family buy-in appear to be a critical component to program success; and (3) High-intensity programs that meet on a consistent basis and frequently result in impacts for African American children and adolescents.”

Desimone, L., & Long, D. A. (2010). Teacher effects and the achievement gap: Do teacher and teaching quality influence the achievement gap between Black and White and high- and low-SES students in the early grades? Teachers College Record, 112(12), 3024–3073. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Although there is relative agreement on the pattern of the achievement gap, attributing changes in the gap to schooling is less clear. Our study contributes to understanding potential teacher and teaching effects on achievement and inequality. Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: We intend our work to contribute to understanding the school’s role in addressing the achievement gap. We investigate the extent to which specific aspects of teacher quality (degree in math, experience, certification, math courses, and professional development) and teaching quality (time spent on math instruction and conceptual, basic procedural, and advanced procedural instruction) influence mathematics achievement growth and the achievement gap between White and Black students and low- and high-SES students in kindergarten and first grade. Research Design, Data Collection and Analysis: In this secondary analysis, we examine the first four waves of data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (2000), a nationally representative longitudinal sample of students who were kindergartners in 1998. We use multilevel growth models to estimate relationships. Findings/Results: We found evidence that lower achieving students are initially assigned to teachers who emphasize basic instruction, and higher achieving students are assigned teachers who emphasize more advanced instruction. The use of advanced procedural instruction and time spent on math were related to achievement growth for traditionally disadvantaged populations—Black students and low-SES students. Other types of instruction and teacher quality variables were not related to achievement growth. Conclusions/Recommendations: We found weak or no effects for teacher quality and type of instruction, which suggests that these aspects of teacher and teaching quality may operate as sorting variables. This may explain a part of the findings of past cross-sectional and gain studies that would likely interpret correlations between teachers and teaching as part of the effect of instruction. We found that low achievers tend to get teachers who spend less time on instruction, a variable we found significant in influencing achievement growth. If, as our study found, time on instruction matters, and disadvantaged students are more likely to get the weakest teachers who spend less time on instruction, we can identify an area in which schooling exacerbates the achievement gap but has the potential to ameliorate it.”

Gordon, D. M., Iwamoto, D. K., Ward, N., Potts, R., & Boyd, E. (2009). Mentoring urban Black middle school male students: Implications for academic achievement. Journal of Negro Education, 78(3), 277–289. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Researchers have called for innovative and culturally responsive intervention programs to enhance male, Black middle school students’ academic achievement. Mentoring has received considerable attention as a novel remedy. Although anecdotal evidence supports the positive role of mentoring on academic achievement, these results are not consistent. The Benjamin E. Mays Institute (BEMI) builds on the ideals of mentoring to counter the effects of academic underachievement among adolescent Black males by building a model that is Afrocentric; uses prosocial modeling; and emphasizes cultural strengths and pride, and single-sex instruction in a dual-sex educational environment. From a sample of sixty-one middle school Black males, results revealed that students in the BEMI program had significantly greater academic attachment scores and academic success than their non-mentored peers. Additionally, racial identity attitudes of immersion/emersion and internalization and identification with academics were also significantly associated with standardized achievement tests and GPA. Policy and practice implications are discussed.”

Mitchell, I., Nistor, N., Baltes, B., & Brown, M. (2016). Effect of vocabulary test preparation on low-income black middle school students’ reading scores. Journal of Educational Research and Practice, 6(1), 105–118. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Black middle school students in the United States continue to perform poorly on standardized reading achievement tests in comparison to other racial and ethnic groups. The purpose of this research study was to examine the effectiveness of a vocabulary-focused test preparation program for Black middle school students. The theoretical framework consisted of Thorndike’s concept of test-wiseness, a test-taking capacity. Teachers at the research site were trained on Larry Bell’s 12 Powerful Words strategy that aims to make students test-wise, that is, to familiarize them with key vocabulary terms related to tests. An intact-group comparison was conducted, involving a total of N = 679 Black students in Grades 6, 7, and 8 with 370 girls and 309 boys. An analysis of covariance showed significant effects for Grade 6, marginally significant effects for Grade 7, and nonsignificant effects for Grade 8. These findings suggest that the 12 Powerful Words are effective and that their effect decreases with students’ age. As a practical consequence, instructional leaders will be able to make more informed decisions regarding test preparation and potentially reduce the number of underperforming students in classrooms.”

Same, M. R., Guarino, N. I., Pardo, M., Benson, D., Fagan, K., & Lindsay, J. (2018). Evidence-supported interventions associated with Black students’ education outcomes: Findings from a systematic review of research. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest. Retrieved from

From the abstract:REL Midwest conducted a systematic review of research on interventions that may improve academic outcomes for Black students. The review entailed a search for studies that provide evidence at Tier I (strong evidence), Tier II (moderate evidence), or Tier III (promising evidence) according to the Every Student Succeeds Act, and explicitly mention associations between an intervention and Black students’ achievement in math or reading, dropout rates, or graduation rates. After screening 3,917 studies, REL Midwest identified 24 studies that provided Tier III evidence (promising evidence) supportive of 22 interventions. No studies were identified that provided Tier I or Tier II evidence. The 22 interventions include consulting with district assistance and intervention teams, hiring certified teachers, adopting the Elementary School Success Profile Model of Assessment and Prevention, adopting the Good Behavior Game with enhanced academic curriculum, connecting male Black youth with school and community mentors, encouraging parents to become involved with their child’s education at home, encouraging parental involvement at school, adopting the Positive Action program, adopting the Student Success Skills program, developing student-teacher relationships, using formative assessments, including specific topics in math instruction for students in kindergarten and grade 4, communicating high expectations to students, assigning homework, using instructional reform practices in math, increasing instructional time in math, encouraging students to participate in out-of-school programs, implementing a summer reading program with free books, encouraging participation in urban debate leagues, and introducing Black students to self-affirmation techniques. The 22 interventions and the studies that provide supportive evidence are presented.”

Washington, A. R. (2010). Professional school counselors and African American males: Using school/community collaboration to enhance academic performance. Journal of African American Males in Education, 1(1), 26–39. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Professional school counselors can play an instrumental role in the academic development of students with whom they interact. To empower professional school counselors in promoting improved academic performance, the American School Counseling Association (ASCA, 2003) revised its national model. Now more than ever, professional school counselors are expected to advocate on behalf of all students to facilitate their optimal academic development. One student demographic in particular—African American males—has experienced chronic academic difficulties. In the position of advocate, professional school counselors can promote improved academic performance in African American adolescent males through school/community collaboration. This article will include suggestions for professional school counselors to become more effective advocates capable of establishing collaborative relationships that facilitate academic achievement for African American male students.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

The African American Regional Education Alliances (AAREA) –

From the website: “The African American Regional Education Alliances (AAREA)’s mission is to develop collaborative educational services and professional development opportunities that result in improved academic proficiency and college readiness of African American students.

AAREA Program Values

Collaboration across barriers helps address social inequalities.
Equitable schools are the cornerstone of equitable communities.
Culturally responsive approaches engage African American students.
Bring a systems approach to racial justice efforts.

The Campaign for Black Male Achievement –

From the website: “The Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA) is a national     membership network that seeks to ensure the growth, sustainability, and impact of leaders and organizations committed to improving the life outcomes of Black men and boys. CBMA is the only organization that both supports local leaders on the ground while at the same time amplifying and catalyzing the movement for Black Male Achievement around the country. We are defining and building the future we want for ourselves today, where our brothers and sons are seen for the limitless assets they are. We measure our impact through the lens of High School Excellence.”

Center on Education Policy –

From the website: “The Center on Education Policy is a national, independent source for research and information about public education. The Center helps Americans better understand the role of public education in a democracy and the need to improve the academic quality of public schools. We do not represent any special interests. Instead, we try to help citizens make sense of the conflicting opinions and perceptions about public education and create the conditions that will lead to better public schools.”

REL West note: One report published by the Center on Education Policy in 2010 is relevant to this request, as follows:

Kober, N. (2010). A call to action to raise achievement for African American students. Student Achievement Policy Brief #1: African American Students. Washington, DC: Center on Education Policy. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “One out of every six public school students in the U.S. is African American. The achievement of African American students as a group will have a significant impact on the nation’s economic strength and social well-being. This brief looks at the performance of African American students on state reading and mathematics tests and considers the policy implications of these achievement trends. The information in part 1 is drawn from an immense set of test data from all 50 states that was gathered by the Center on Education Policy (CEP) with technical support from the Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO) and was verified by state officials. For the past three years, CEP has used these data to do an ongoing study of state test score trends. Part 2 of this brief considers policies that could be undertaken at the local, state, and federal level to raise achievement for African American students. The authors arrived at these policy implications after reviewing studies by other researchers about possible factors underlying the black-white achievement gap and possible strategies to address this gap. Tables showing the 2008 percentages proficient in reading and math at grades 4, 8, and high school for the major racial/ethnic subgroups in each of the 50 states are appended.”

Council of the Great City Schools –

From the website: “The Council of the Great City Schools brings together 70 of the nation’s largest urban public school systems in a coalition dedicated to the improvement of education for children in the inner cities. The Council and its member school districts work to help our schoolchildren meet the highest standards and become successful and productive members of society. The Council keeps the nation’s lawmakers, the media, and the public informed about the progress and problems in big-city schools. The organization does this through legislation, communications, research, and technical assistance. The organization also helps to build capacity in urban education with programs to boost academic performance and narrow achievement gaps; improve professional development; and strengthen leadership, governance, and management.”

REL West note: One report published by the Council in 2012 is relevant to this request, as follows:

Lewis, S.,  Casserly, M., Simon, C., Uzzell, R., & Palacios, M. (2012). A call for change: Providing solutions for black male achievement. Washington, DC: Council of the Great City Schools. Retrieved from

From the introduction: “In October 2010, the Council of the Great City Schools released a major report on the academic status of African American males, A Call for Change: The Social and Educational Factors Contributing to the Outcomes of Black Males in Urban Schools. The report was the first phase of the Council’s efforts to recommit the energies of the nation’s urban public school systems to improving the quality of education for African American males nationwide. The report, along with efforts by other groups and individuals, was instrumental in calling attention to this issue. In the second phase of the Council’s work, we commissioned a series of solution briefs from some of the nation’s leading scholars and experts to help us think through an effective set of strategies to address the academic needs of African American males. This e-book is a compilation of those papers. The solutions outlined in each paper focus on both educational and noneducational strategies, such as expectations and self-esteem, early-childhood programs, college and career readiness, gifted and talented education, mathematics instruction, English language arts instruction, partnerships and mentoring, successful learning communities, out-of-school-time learning, health and safety, and the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Education Commission of the States –

From the website: “Education Commission of the States partners with education policy leaders to address issues by sharing resources and expertise. We are proud to serve both the people who develop and implement education policy and the students who directly benefit from effective policy change.”

REL West note: One report published by the Education Commission of the States in 2015 is relevant to this request, as follows:

Wixom, M. A. (2015). Closing the achievement gap: Four states’ efforts. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The achievement gap separating economically disadvantaged students from their more advantaged peers disproportionately affects students of color and has been the focus of discussion, research and controversy for more than 40 years. While the gap between black and white students narrowed considerably from the 1950s to the 1980s, that gap has remained stubbornly stable since then. Some research suggests that the income achievement gap (separating wealthy and poor students) is widening. Below-par achievement of minority and economically disadvantaged students remains one of the most concerning problems in education. This brief highlights the efforts of four states—Connecticut, Massachusetts, Washington and Wisconsin—to reduce their achievement gaps through state-level task forces or commissions and other legislative action. These four states historically boast average or strong academic achievement levels, but all are facing achievement gaps, some of them significant. Two appendices are provided: (1) Master Plan to Eliminate the Achievement Gap in Connecticut; and (2) Recommendations from the 2014 Massachusetts Advocates for Diversity in Education Task Force.”

Oakland’s African-American Male Achievement (AAMA) program –

From the website: “The Office of African-American Male Achievement was launched in 2010 and creates the systems, structures, and spaces that guarantee success for all African-American male students in OUSD.

African-American Male Achievement is an ambitious project designed to dramatically improve academic and ultimately life outcomes for African-American male students in Oakland. AAMA is leading the school district by analyzing the patterns and processes that are producing systemic inequities. OUSD’s theory of action, Targeted Universalism, asserts that by transforming the system to support successful outcomes for OUSD’s lowest performing subgroup, OUSD will create a district that improves academic and social-emotional outcomes for all of its students.”

Research Alliance for New York City Schools –

From the website: “The Research Alliance conducts rigorous studies on topics that matter to the City’s public schools. We strive to advance equity and excellence in education by providing nonpartisan evidence about policies and practices that promote students’ development and academic success.”

REL West note: One report published by the Research Alliance in 2014 is relevant to this request, as follows:

Villavicencio, A., Klevan, S., Guidry, B., & Wulach, S. (2014). Promising opportunities for Black and Latino young men: Findings from the early implementation of the expanded success initiative. Executive Summary. New York, NY: Research Alliance for New York City Schools. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “In 2011, the New York City Mayor’s Office, the Open Society Foundations, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and over 20 local agencies launched the Young Men’s Initiative (YMI), a citywide effort to improve outcomes for Black and Latino young men in the areas of education, health, employment, and criminal justice. YMI is one of the single largest initiatives focused on Black and Latino males in the country, and it is at the forefront of a growing national movement to address the challenges these young men face in a more concerted way. The core education component of YMI—the Expanded Success Initiative (ESI)—is designed to meet two related goals: (1) to increase college and career readiness among Black and Latino male students in participating high schools; and (2) to identify and disseminate effective strategies that might be replicated in other NYC schools and possibly other districts. This executive summary presents highlights from the report, Promising Opportunities for Black and Latino Young Men: Findings from the Early Implementation of the Expanded Success Initiative. While it is too soon to know if ESI is having an impact on student outcomes, the report provides a rich description of the first year of implementation (i.e., the 2012–2013 school year) at 38 of the 40 ESI schools. It focuses on elements that are integral to ESI’s theory of action and were reported by school staff as having been the most promising for improving student outcomes and school culture. This information is intended to help ESI schools and the NYC Department of Education (DOE) as they refine programming and district-level support through the remainder of the initiative. More broadly, these findings and recommendations can inform efforts in other schools and districts working to better engage young men of color.”

WestEd –

From the website: “WestEd — a nonpartisan, nonprofit research, development, and service agency — works with education and other communities throughout the United States and abroad to promote excellence, achieve equity, and improve learning for children, youth, and adults.”

REL West note: Three webinars and related materials are relevant to this request, as follows:

High-Quality Instruction That Promotes Learning and Achievement for African American Male Students (

Improving Academic Outcomes for African American Students (

Learning Environments That Promote Positive Youth Development and Success for African American Male Students (


The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

(“African American” OR “Black”) AND (“conditions” OR “strategies”) AND (“academic performance” OR “outcomes” OR “achievement” OR “success”) AND (“K–12”). 

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.   

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.