Falling Through the Cracks:
Low Student Achievement in Urban High Schools
By Ashelley Wilder, BS
Coppin State University/University of Baltimore
Dr. Bridal Pearson, Ph.D
December 8, 2010
Retention and the decision to dropout are two of the many pervasive attitudes that undermine the success of students in urban high schools. The achievement gap between urban and suburban students has been an issue of growing concern among researchers, policymakers, and education officials. This paper will explore the many issues involved in trying to understand this far-reaching socio-academic problem. This paper is divided into four sections. The background section will provide general information on the prevalence of student achievement, explore the consequences and causes of it, and identify the stakeholders on the issue. It will also provide information on the current government response, The No Child Left Behind Act, and three instituted solutions: accountability, tuition vouchers, and teacher induction programs. It will then provide a suggested solution: extended day programs.
Low student achievement in urban area school systems is an issue of public concern that the government should address. An achievement gap is defined “as an observed disparity between the performances of groups of students (NEA, 2010)”. According to the National Education Association, achievement gaps exist when groups of students with relatively equal ability do not achieve academically at the same levels. In most cases, “one group often exceeds the achievement levels of others. Achievement gaps may be based on race or ethnicity, income levels, language background, disability status, or gender (NEA, 2010).” In a study administered by the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), a sample was taken of 12,000 high school seniors who took part in a simple reading assessment (Table 1). This sample group was monitored as time progressed and the findings of the survey shows that 12th grade reading achievement is decreasing markedly over time. “In 1992, 40% of seniors performed at the Proficient level. In comparison with results from 2005, the data shows a decline in proficiency, from 40% to 35%. Despite this decrease, there is a glimpse of hope. Data retrieved from 2005, shows that the percentage of students performing at a Basic level decreased from 80 % in 1992 to 73% in 2005 (Grigg, 2007)”. The questions the data now poses are: if fewer students are performing at the Basic level, and more are not proficient, what is happening to these students? Have they fallen into the achievement gap?
Table 1. Trend in 12th-grade NAEP reading achievement-level results [pic]
1 Student achievement may have significant impacts later in life. Many people fail to realize the value of their education until it is too late, and they are subject to its ill effects. The impacts of low student achievement in urban schools are: an increase in high school dropout rates, increased juvenile delinquency, and concentrated poverty. The effects low student achievement has on society are closely related: one impact may be an indirect cause of another or may occur together.
Students might become stressed out with school if they are failing or seemed burdened with schoolwork. These feelings prompt students to choose the easy way out-- dropping out. A survey conducted by Teachers Network, polled youth in an urban high school as to why they feel their peers drop out. The survey explored the “internal motivations of the students as well as the external factors that influence their education. 82 % of students surveyed felt that schools were not doing all they could to reach out to students who were falling behind (Quartz, 2003)”. Through the survey, students themselves attributed behaviors like skipping school, using drugs and alcohol and the responsibility of being a parent can cause a student to...