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Student Conference Highlights Equity Issues Faced by Students at TC and in Public Schools

What is the difference between barely passing and barely failing an exam?  Technically, just mere points, but for students taking high school exit exams, it can mean the difference between graduating and dropping out, even when there are opportunities to retake the test. Such were the findings of a study presented at the 1st annual Student Research Conference on Educational Equity at Teachers College in April.

The study, conducted by Dongshu Ou, a doctoral student in the Economics and Education Program at Teachers College and a 2008 Research Grant  recipient, analyzed test results for 11th and 12th graders who took the New Jersey High School Proficiency Assessment between 2002 and 2006. Students have three opportunities to pass the state’s math and language arts high school exit exams. Despite this, Ou found that students who barely failed one of the tests have a higher probability of dropping out than students who barely passed the exam, and that this effect was especially pronounced for poor and minority students.

Ou’s findings of a “discouragement effect” are significant in that they point to one of the unintended consequences of the standards movement – the disproportionate dropout rate among minority students. Yet the study also highlights the importance of investing sufficient resources effectively. Allocating additional resources to counsel students who barely fail the exams and to assist them in passing on a retest could go a long way in reducing their risk of dropping out.


The Student Research Conference where Ou presented her findings was sponsored by the Campaign for Education at Teachers College. It was developed to showcase exemplary student scholarly work on educational equity.

“We think it is important to offer students the opportunity to address the equity issues that most concern them or interest them as students and scholars,” explained Michael Rebell, executive director of the Campaign for Educational

The issue that most concerned Juhyung Lee, a master’s candidate in the Elementary Inclusive Preservice Program and an Grant recipient, was the impact of class and race on teacher education at Teachers College. After surveying and interviewing student teachers at TC, he found that they do not feel that the college adequately supports their goals of working with low-income and minority children in the NYC public schools.  As one of his interviewees stated:

“We’re always talking about how we feel…what are lessons look like, but I just feel like our students are really invisible in all our discussions…I feel like race and class are sort of invisible, and that makes me nervous.”

Lee calls for the college to do more to integrate issues of race and class into coursework and to eliminate courses that deal with diversity and multiculturalism as an isolated subject. He also recommends that more student teachers be placed in public schools that more accurately represent the NYC population.

Among the other conference presentations were the preliminary findings from the other 2008 Research Grant recipients: Leah Mason, Yi-Sheng Lin, and Victor Quinones Guerra, doctoral students in the Department of International and Transcultural Studies, who are investigating linguistic diversity and equity at Teachers College. Their research found that despite the incredible linguistic diversity found at TC (69 different languages are spoken), the school does not do enough to support “interlinguistic communication.” They found instead that the majority of the students they interviewed felt that speaking a language other than English interfered with their academic career at TC.

The complete results of these studies are expected this summer.

Other presenters included Victoria Konarski, a master’s candidate in the Teaching of Social Studies program, who offered the TC EdZone Reading and Math Buddies Program as a model for helping struggling students after school; Jeff Frank, a doctoral student in the Philosophy and Education Program, whose paper on student as consumer explored how information can shape the student experience in higher education; Iwan Syahril, a master’s student in the Curriculum and Teaching Department who examined the effects of standardized testing on students in Indonesia; and Stephanie Burdick-Shepherd, a doctoral student in the Philosophy and Education Department, who closed the event with her interpretation of equity as the acceptance of difference.

For a full list of papers presented at the conference, please visit www.tcequity.org.


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