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Fantuzzo, John. Journal of School Psychology, Volume 50, Issue 5, October 2012, pages 559–579. This study of about 8,900 Philadelphia children went beyond a simple measure of poverty to explore six risk factors that influence the achievement gap between African American and White boys and demonstrated that students facing more risk factors suffer academically. The study also showed that African American boys with higher levels of academic engagement—as measured by attendance and task engagement—performed significantly better on both reading and mathematics tests after accounting for the effects of early risk experiences. Evaluating children from birth through third grade, the study looked at risk factors such as poor prenatal care and low education levels for the children’s mothers, premature births, lead exposure, homelessness and maltreatment. The study found a “risk gap”: African American boys from low-income families were more likely to face one or more of these risk factors than White boys from similar families. The African American boys were also more likely to have poor attendance and less likely to engage in school. The study suggests that improving attendance and engagement can reduce the effects of the risk factors and help close the achievement gap.

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