Understanding an achievement gap: Exploring the relationship between attention, working memory, and academic achievement

Sandra Dean, University of Pennsylvania


Recent advances in cognitive neuroscience have produced discoveries about the neural foundations of learning and about the brain's plasticity in response to training. However, there have been few collaborations between cognitive neuroscientists and educators to explore connections between neural processes associated with learning and students' academic achievement. This dissertation reports on an investigation by the head of a pre-K to eighth grade independent school, working with a cognitive neuroscientist and a cognitive psychologist. The purpose of the investigation was to examine the relationship between selected components of students' attention and working memory capacities and students' academic achievement. In this study, individual 6th and 8th graders were evaluated using reliable tests developed by cognitive neuroscientists to measure capacities of particular attention and working memory functions, especially those that involve the conflict monitoring and selection components of attention and the maintenance component of working memory in the presence of distraction. The resulting attention and working memory measures were compared with measures of students' school achievement derived from standardized test scores, grades and classroom assessments. Differences in attention and working memory capacities were correlated with achievement gaps between high achievers and low achievers. Prospects for teachers recognizing and addressing those cognitive differences are encouraging.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|Educational psychology

Recommended Citation

Dean, Sandra, "Understanding an achievement gap: Exploring the relationship between attention, working memory, and academic achievement" (2006). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3209993.