African American Males in South Carolina

African American Males in South Carolina


Understanding the effect of race in educational achievements of African American males is more important than ever as the state of South Carolina's population becomes increasingly diverse. Standardized testing was implemented to give an indication of how students are performing at a particular school or area. However, tests scores are not always reliable. Test scores do not measure the level of family support such as parental support, or the type of community they are in, and how engaged students are in the learning process. There is evidence that suggests that some African American male test takers have been at an environmental disadvantage. Standardized tests are culturally designed to measure cognitive skills, and information procedures of European American middle class students (Bell 1994). This research study will analyze factors, such as students below the poverty rate, student's attendance and single parent households to determine a possible reason for African American males' poor performance on standardized tests.


I would like to thank the following people: My advisors Dr. Jamil Khan for his guidance, The University of South Carolina Ronald E. McNair Coordinator Michelle Cooper for helping me edit my research paper, Dr. Mitchell Mackinem for his helpful suggestions, The Ron McNair faculty members for pushing me and giving me positive feedback on my practice presentations, and my fellow McNair colleagues for staying by my side.


The stakes are particularly high for schools in South Carolina with males who perform poorly on standardized tests. South Carolina has one of the lowest rankings of African American male students who score high on standardized tests, such as the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Tests (SC Department of Education). African American males are continuously publicized as being at risk and are more likely to drop out of school. Irrespective of their income status or level of education, for many African American males a stigma of inferiority follows them (Jackson 2008).

Standardized tests are supposed to be designed to measure academic performance, assess progress in schools, and determine the ability to attend institutions of higher education. Usually, standardized tests are composed of reading, writing, and math. The tests have multiple-choice questions and essays. Each multiple-choice question has only one correct answer. The essay responses include critical thinking and how well a person articulates his or her ideas. The tests do not measure the learning process, the ability to develop thoughts, and how well schools are contributing to student development (Pino 2004). There is evidence that suggests that some African American test takers have been at an environmental disadvantage (Davis 2008). Biological differences, family and cultural influences, along with the effects of social structure, school characteristics, and organizational processes have been examined by scholars to explain the continuing disparities in educational outcomes (Pino 2004).

The European worldview is dominant in American society as reflected by the beliefs and practices of American educational institutions (Bell 1994). Such beliefs and practices are that humans are rational and analytical. Therefore, they can define the meaning of the world and solve its problems (Bell 1994). A high percentage of African American students have historically been labeled as underachievers in education (Coley 2008). There is considerable evidence that African Americans think of themselves as having a meaningful racial identity represented by a disadvantage of history and continued challenges (Downey 2008). Some African Americans think their history is rich in value and endured hardship because of inequality. There are numerous explanations of why African Americans are underachieving in education, such as African Americans who strive to achieve an education are often seen as “not being black enough” or being rejected by their peers and community (Coley 2008).

African American students who disagree with school often show less confidence, and lack achieving academic success. African American students tend to live in neighborhoods with material conditions such as high unemployment and non traditional family structures that are less likely to foster the kinds of skills, habits, and styles that lead to school success (Pino 2004). Students were more likely to have less educated parents result to having lower SAT scores. In some cases SAT scores also indicated the test taker's parent's weakness and strengths in learning. If African Americans were exposed to similar levels of school-related skills as whites, they would learn in similar manner as Euro Americans.

The literature on knowledge acquisition reveals that African Americans tend to manifest with the rational learning styles than the analytical style used on standardized tests (Bell 1994). The rational process is when thinking is disassociated from the content or experiences that initiated it. The analytical process is the separating and distinguishing elements of ideas, and problems in order to understand its essential nature and inner relationships. Analytical style is highly valued in Euro-American culture (Bell 1994). Several studies have suggested that analytical learners in comparison to non-analytical learners have slower response and thus tend to make fewer mistakes when problem solving (Bell 1994). Leaner's analyze information to their own advantage, which the process maybe faster than others learning styles such as the rational learning style.

Some hold the view that standardized tests measure an enduring and likely immutable characteristic that is closely related to IQ (Hedges 1999). Wechsler IQ tests define intelligence as the “aggregated or global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal with the environment” (Bell 1994). Researchers have analyzed IQ tests as reflecting a left brain bias, as opposed to “mental holism” in African American students (Bell 1994). Mental holism is identifying the content or meaning of a sentence (Bell 1994). Another view is that “test scores basically measure how much formal and informal instruction some has received and absorbed” (Grace 2003). Thus, the learning style constructed serves a similar purpose as the IQ and other similar tests defining mental capability. However, the format of the IQ and standardized tests are completely different because of how the questions are asked.

The comparison between African American students and European American students shows unequal opportunity and non comprehensive understanding of the academic process. (Kellow 2008) indicated that, African Americans who merely asked to identify their race before standardize tests such as the SAT did not performed as well as those who were not asked for their race (Kellow 2008). Empirical evidence suggests that African Americans reported lower reliability and validity than responses of whites on standardized tests (Downey 2008). In a case study, one group of African American students were told that the tests measured their abilities; another group was told that the tests were laboratory experiments to see how students solve problems. In each case, Africans American students did much worse when they were told that tests measured their abilities and much better when they were told the tests were laboratory studies (Kellow 2008).

There was a significant correlation between racial identity and academic self concept; GPA scores appeared to be a better predictor of academic achievement (Coley 2008).Pino investigated the level of student academic engagement by using the concept of the academic ethic. The academic ethic is a learned behavior and those who posses it place their studies above leisure actives; study daily and in a disciplined intense manner. African Americans with the academic ethic have higher GPAs and are less likely to engage in academic dishonesty then those without academic ethic (Pino 2004).

Psychologist Claude Steel developed the theory “a stereotype threat” that a threat of being perceived as a negative stereotype or the fear of poor performance confirming that stereotype can be powerful enough to shape the intellectual performance and academic identities of entire groups of people (Kellow 2008). Evidence supports the idea that stereotypes and low expectation have harmful effects on African American students (Davis 2008). The media publicize stereotypes created and ingrained in the popular images relating African American students only good at sports, joining gangs, and idolizing rappers and entertainers as role models (Kellow 2008). These and other stereotypes are perpetuated by messages in print journalism, television, motion pictures, and social science writing. The most provocative evidence of stereotypes threat finds that African American subjects score lower on standardized test such as the SAT when potential race based vulnerabilities are primed (Downey 2008).

Problem Statement/Thesis:

The data will suggest African American male students in South Carolina are affected more by their environmental factors, causing low performance on standardized tests.


This study uses both quantitative and qualitative methods to determine what environmental factors contribute to African American males to underachieve on standardized tests.

The quantitative data was collected from several school districts report cards and the Census Bureau (Census Bureau 2008). The study focused on African American males and Caucasian males meeting the standards requirement in the 8th grade mathematics section of the 2008 Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test or PACT. The mathematics section was chosen because of the importance in today's society (Jackson 2008). Twelve school districts' report cards were analyzed to determine the overall school ratings. The school districts were divided into school districts that were ranked good, average, bellow average, or at risk. The school districts that met the requirements, having the majority of test takers to meet the state standards, were classified as a “good” school district. The school districts that barely met the state standards were classified as an “average” school district. However, if the school districts did not meet the state's standards, they were classified as being “below average” or having a majority of test takers not meet the standards that were classified as “at risk”. The three school districts that had an overall “good” rating were Anderson District One, Spartanburg District Four, and York District Two. The three school districts that had an average rating were Charleston District, Florence District One, and Greenville District. The school districts that have a below average rating are Orangeburg District Five, Richland District One, and Sumter District Seventeen. The school districts that were at risk were Colleton District, Fairfield District, and Lexington District Four. The current study identified three possible environmental factors, which were students who parent's household income is below the poverty line in the district, the districts attendance rate, and the percentage of African American males living in single parent homes.

The qualitative data is supported by previous case studies that found possible environmental reasons as to why African American males are underachieving on standardized tests. The qualitative data gives emphasis to the variables used to conduct the quantitative method.


Of the environmental factors explored in this study, one factor (single parent households) was significantly related for being a possible reason for African American males in South Carolina's low performance on standardized tests.

The findings in this current study suggests that districts with a “good” overall rating have a higher percentage of African American male students meeting the state requirement. African American male students in districts with an “average” overall rating showed about a 30% decease when meeting the state requirements. The three districts with “below average” rating, and the three districts with an “at risk” rating showed about the same percentage of African American male students meeting the requirements as to African American males in districts with an “average” overall rating showed no significant change. Caucasian males showed a higher percentage of meeting the standard requirements and stayed constant no matter the district's rating. However, the performance of African American males meeting the standard requirements was not as high as their Caucasian counterparts. This indicates African American males are less likely to performing as well as Caucasian males on the PACT test no matter what the school districts' overall rating is.

Previous studies have indicated environmental factors such as poverty could be a possible explanation for why African American males are underachieving. (Davis 2008). In this study, the number of children in households' income below the poverty level was irrelevant to African American male's low performance. The school districts that had at least an “average” overall rating had higher numbers of students in households with income below the poverty line. The three school districts that have a “good” overall rating had an average of approximately 29.1 percent of students in household income below the poverty rate. The three school districts that have an average overall rating have an “average” of approximately 34.2 percent of students in household income below the poverty rate. The three school districts that have a “below average” overall rating have an average of approximately 31% percent of students in households' income below the poverty rate. The last set were from the three school districts that have an “at risk” overall rating. The three school districts have an average of approximately 31 percent of students' in households with income below the poverty rate. The data shows no indication of poverty being a possible reason for African American male's underachievement on standardized tests.

There was no significant difference among the different school districts' attendance rate. The overall average was at 95% among school districts that were good, average, below average, and at risk. However, data did not reveal the student's attendance rates as a possible factor for African American male's underachievement on standardized tests.

One of the most relevant characteristics of families today is childrens' living arrangements, because children from single-parent families make up an increasing proportion of the student population (Pong 1998). Previous studies found evidence that students in single parent families are at a greater risk than students in two-parent families of educational failure (Pong 1998). In his is this Pong? study he concluded that schools with 25-49% percent of children from single-parent families are less effective in producing mathematics achievement than are schools with lower proportions of such children, which was caused in part by lack of parental participation.

The current study corresponds with previous findings. The three school districts that have a good overall rating have an average of 39.5% of students being a part of a single parent household. The three school districts that have an “average” overall rating have an average of 44.6% of students from single-parent homes. The school district that have a “below average” overall rating have an average of 53.5%. Last, the school district that have an “at risk” overall rating have an average of 52.7%. The data indicates that single parent households maybe a possible factor for African American male students underachieving on standardized tests.


The data reported in this study suggest that African American male students in single parent households was the only environmental factor that could explain the reason why African American males were not achieving as well on standardized tests as Caucasian American males. The other factors such as students below the poverty rate and student attendance rate had no correlations. There is a strong possibility that students from a single parent household are the majority population in districts that have below average and at risk ratings. Pong's study found that school level measure of parental school participation has a positive effect on students' achievement (Pong 2008). However, my current study did not investigate African American males' parents' participation on preparing their students for the mathematics section of the PACT or any other standardized tests. There is no evidence that the involvement of one parent in school makes a difference for his or her child inschools in where few parents attend school meetings or volunteer for school responsibilities (Pong 2008). In the same study, Pong discovered that African American males who attend school districts where more than half of the student body reside in a single parent household affects Africa American males performance on standardized tests.

There were limitations of this research project. First, only twelve districts were used in this study. More school districts would make it more reasonable to generalize the findings to the larger population. Another limitation of this research project is that only three possible environmental variables were used. The only variables that were African American males whose parents were below the poverty rate, student's attendance rate, and African American males who were in single parent households. The final limitation of this research study was being unable to collect data on African American males' different learning styles. The different learning styles could correspond to African American males being apart of single parent households.

Future Work:

Study, a new question has developed for future research projects. The new research question,” Is their a correlation between African American students in single parent households and learning styles? Future research into this topic would attempt to uncover the learning characteristics of African American students who live in single parent households and examine specific factors of such homes which may influence student achievement. This study only included statistics from the year 2008. Further, these finding may be extended to include a comparison of learning styles and student achievement of Caucasian students who are also from single parents homes.

Reference List

Bell, Yvonne R. "A Culturally Sensitive Analysis of Black Learning Style." Journal of Black Psychology 20, no. 1 (February 01, 1994): 47-61. ERIC, EBSCOhost (accessed June 2, 2009).

Coley, Denise Williams. 2008. Afrocentric identity and high school students' perception of academic achievement.Psy.D. diss., University of Hartford, In Dissertations & Theses: Full Text [database on-line]; available from (publication number AAT 3328083; accessed June 2, 2009).

Davis, Joseph Scott. 2008. A persistent achievement gap: African American students dealing with peer pressure in a southern and rural high school.Ed.D. diss., Harvard University, In Dissertations & Theses: Full Text [database on-line]; available from (publication number AAT 3319182; accessed June 2, 2009).

“Department of South Carolina Education Commission”

Downey, Douglas B. "Black/White Differences in School Performance: The Oppositional Culture Explanation." Annual Review of Sociology 34, no. 1 (August 2008): 107-126. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed June 2, 2009).

Hedges, Larry V., and Amy Nowell. "Changes in the Black-White Gap in Achievement Test Scores." Sociology of Education 72, no. 2 (April 1999): 111-135. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed June 2, 2009).

Jackson, J., & Moore, I. (2008, March). Introduction: The African American Male Crisis in Education: A Popular Media Infatuation or Needed Public Policy Response?. American Behavioral Scientist, 51(7), 847-853. Retrieved June 13, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database

Kao, Grace, and Jennifer S. Thompson. "RACIAL AND ETHNIC STRATIFICATION IN EDUCATIONAL ACHIEVEMENT AND ATTAINMENT." Annual Review of Sociology 29, no. 1 (August 2003): 417-442. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed June 2, 2009).

Kellow, J. Thomas, and Brett D. Jones. "The Effects of Stereotypes on the Achievement Gap: Reexamining the Academic Performance of African American High School Students." Journal of Black Psychology 34, no. 1 (January 01, 2008): 94-120. ERIC, EBSCOhost (accessed June 2, 2009).

Pino, Nathan W., and William L. Smith. 2004. "AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDENTS, THE ACADEMIC ETHIC, AND GPA." Journal of Black Studies 35, no. 1: 113-131. America: History & Life, EBSCOhost (accessed June 2, 2009).

Pong, S. (1998, January). The School Compositional Effect of Single Parenthood on 10th-Grade Achievement. Sociology of Education, 71(1), 23-42. Retrieved June 13, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database

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