NYU Sociologists Map Trajectory for Gap in Black and White Students' Test Scores to Early Home Environment

New York University sociologists have mapped out the trajectory for the long-standing gap between black and white students’ test scores. Their findings, which appear in the journal Social Science Research, show that the early childhood home environment accounts for much of this gap that exists before starting school and in early school years-and which becomes more pronounced in later years. The researchers found that the impact of the home environment on test scores diminishes after grammar school.

Some of the risk factors for low-achievement scores that are part of the early childhood home environment are the following: birth to a teenage mother, having a low birth weight, having a mother with low cognitive skills, and low family income in early childhood.

“If we take these factors as important markers of mother’s early economic disadvantage and health risk behaviors, then our results suggest that early environments, including prenatal environments, do matter and that racial achievement gaps may be preventable,” wrote the study’s authors, Wei-Jun Jean Yeung, a professor of sociology at NYU, and Kathryn M. Pfeiffer, a researcher at Research Works, Inc.

“Effective interventions must start before a child is born,” the researchers urged. “Policy efforts to reduce early economic hardships for mothers, including direct efforts to reduce the risk of teenage childbearing, prevent low birth weight babies, provide quality prenatal care, and reduce high-school dropout rates are promising measures for reducing the black-white t 500

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