Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal

, Volume 35, Issue 5, pp 499–509 | Cite as

Perceptions of Academic Achievement and Educational Opportunities Among Black and African American Youth

  • Jason St. Mary
  • Molly Calhoun
  • Jacqueline Tejada
  • Jeffrey M. Jenson


Research focusing on disparities in academic achievement among Black, African American, and other youth has largely examined differences in quantitative risk and protective factors associated with levels of achievement. Few interpretive studies of academic achievement by race or ethnicity have considered how the context of young people’s lives impact their perceptions of academic performance. Furthermore, the lived experiences of Black and African American youth have rarely been considered. This study examined perceptions of academic achievement among a sample of Black and African American elementary and middle school students living in four public housing neighborhoods in a Western US city. Twenty-five Black and African American youth participated in the study. Fourteen youth were in grades 4 and 5, and 11 youth were in grades 6, 7, or 8. Sixty-four percent of participants (n = 16) were male and 36% (n = 9) were female. Four themes emerged regarding participants’ perceptions of academic achievement: (1) (in)equity and the internalization of messages; (2) teachers as gatekeepers; (3) family and community factors promoting and inhibiting academic success; and (4) cultural considerations—language, stereotypes, and difference. Implications for improving academic outcomes and reducing the achievement gap among Black, African American, and other students are noted.


Academic achievement Public housing Qualitative methods Children and youth Black and African American students 


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of DenverDenverUSA
  2. 2.University of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

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