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Achievement Gap in Schools

By llpsd8888 Apr 10, 2013 2884 Words
Running Heading: ACHIEVEMENT GAP IN SCHOOLS

The Achievement Gap in Schools and What Can Be Done to Close it Laura L. Pandiani
Assumption College

Abstract
This paper explores the struggle of the achievement gap in schools. The achievement gap refers to the inequality in educational achievement among groups of students determined as disadvantaged minorities and those of less disadvantaged, usually white. The gap is a constant battle with no clear way as to how to fix it. The achievement gap can be observed on a variety of measures, including standardized test scores, highest level of education, dropout rates, and college enrollment and completion rates. While most of the data presented in this paper comes from the United States, similar gaps exist for these groups in other nations. By making more people aware of this problem, rewarding our teachers, and changing what these kids experience before entering school; we may be able to narrow the gap for these students so they can all achieve equally.

The Achievement Gap in Schools and What Can Be Done to Close it The gap in achievement that separates disadvantaged students and students of color from less disadvantaged students has been the focus of discussion in schools for nearly 40 years. Today, the average black or Hispanic high school student currently achieves at about the same level as the average white student in the lowest quartile of white achievement (Pawlenty, 2009). Black and Hispanic students are much more likely than white students to fall behind in school and drop out, and much less likely to graduate from high school, acquire a college or advanced degree, or earn a middle-class living. Unfortunately, less than 17% of African American and Latino students will finish high school and graduate from college (Wagner, 2008). Although black and Hispanic students all scored much higher on tests than they did three decades ago, most of those gains were not made in recent years, but during the desegregation efforts of the 1970s and 1980s.The 1990s, however, were another matter. In some subjects and grade levels, the gaps started growing; in others, they were stagnant (Kerachsky, 2010). There is no set reason to why the gap has grown, but researchers have identified factors that contribute to its widening and suggestions for narrowing the gap. The achievement gap will be narrowed if we as a society become more aware of the issue and we use this awareness to make change in education to see what really works and reward our teachers who help improve students’ achievement. The achievement gap is a matter of race and class. The gap is the differences in academic performance among groups of students which are identified by ethnicity and income level. The annual achievement gap report which is produced by the Education Oversight Committee, a legislative agency that evaluates our schools standards, studies the difference in achievement between groups. The groups they compare are the “target group” which is the historically lower-scoring disadvantaged students, and the “statewide comparison group” which is the historically higher-scoring less disadvantaged students. They compare them at various performance levels of advanced, proficient, basic, and below basic (Rex, 2010). Across the U.S., a gap in academic achievement persists between minority and disadvantaged students and their white counterparts. This is one of the most urgent education policy challenges that states currently face. One common method in measuring the achievement gap is to compare academic performance among African-American, Hispanic, and white students on standardized assessments. But these tests have limitations. For example a school with a growing number of students identified as English language learners may have a growing gap in language arts but that does not necessarily reflect the ability of English language learners (Dietel, 2004). This means that just because a school has a large sub group they should not rely on testing to show the groups achievement, because there could be students in this large group who are achieving at a high rate. Another way is to compare drop-out and college attendance rates for various groups. Hispanic and African-American high school students are more likely to drop out of high school than white students. Of these high school graduates, college enrollment rates for African-American and Hispanic high-school students remain below those of white high-school graduates. Furthermore, of those students enrolling in college, Hispanic and black adults are only half as likely to earn a college degree as white students (“Closing the Achievement Gap,” 2009). An interesting point Viadero and Wagner make is that they say “the achievement gap is all in how you measure it.” For example, it looks like Georgia and West Virginia both made commendable progress over the last six years in narrowing the achievement gap between African-American 8th graders in their state and their higher-performing white peers on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test in math. But, if you look closer, you can see there was an important difference in how each state reported their scores. Georgia did it by spurring achievement gains among both black and white students. They triggered these gains by making their teachers teach solely to the tests and by having them prepare for months in advance before these tests (Wagner, 2008). In West Virginia, African-American students improved, but white students declined (Viadero, 2010). This is a key point in how we look at achievement results based on standardized tests in schools. Schools may make it look like they have made progress but in reality it was just in the way they went about measuring the achievement. The culture and environment in which children are raised may play a role in the achievement gap. There is support saying that minorities begin their educational careers at a disadvantage due to cultural differences (Johnson, 2008). For example, studies show that when students have assistance from a parent with homework, they do much better in school (King, 2009). This is a problem for many minority students due to the large number of single-parent households and the increase in non-English speaking parents. Hispanic students may have difficulty getting help with their work because there is not an English speaker at home (Jencks, 2004). Some researchers believe that African American students stop trying in school because they do not want to be accused of “acting white” by their peers. It has also been suggested that some minority students simply stop trying because they do not believe they will ever see the true benefits of their hard work (King, 2009). Another cultural factor would be the lack of learning opportunities disadvantaged students are faced with. If we want to narrow the gap we need to look at early learning and children’s experience in preschool. A review of research on preschool effects by Steven Barnett, a professor of education at Rutgers, strongly suggests that cognitively-oriented preschool programs can improve black children's achievement scores (Jencks, 2004). By placing these children in preschool and giving them learning opportunities before school even starts, they will be more ready for school. School readiness can be increased by high-quality preschool education. Factors like parents' education level, income and employment, and where they live make these high-quality preschools not always available to minority students (Barnett, 2004). If more minority children were able to attend these higher quality preschools they could be more prepared for school and start off at the same spot as there white peers. Besides having many cultural causes, there are also structural causes as to why the achievement gap may occur. Minority students tend to come from low-income households, meaning they are more likely to attend poorly funded schools based on the districting patterns within the school system. Schools in lower-income districts also tend to employ less-qualified teachers and have fewer educational resources (Wagner, 2008). Lastly, Hispanic and African American students are often wrongly placed into lower tracks based on teachers’ and administrators’ expectations for minority students. Once students are in these lower tracks, they tend to have less-qualified teachers, a less challenging curriculum, and few opportunities to advance into higher tracks (Downey, English, & Steffy, 2009). There are many ways in which society work to close the achievement gap that we face today. The first key way is intervention in education should be evaluated using scientific methods. Most interventions in education like, class size reductions, classroom technology, and drop-out prevention, are based not on evidence that they work, but rather on as researchers say “we just know in our heart that it is right” (Dubner, 2008). They aren’t scientifically evaluated because no one bothers to set up pilot data to see what the outcomes will be. Although many interventions in education in American schools have been tried many times, we know very little about what works. If we did nothing other than analyze the effect of every intervention that is used, we would be more likely to close the gap.

The second step toward narrowing the achievement gap is to reward those teachers who raise the achievement gap. Research shows that a child’s learning will be very different at the end of the school year if he has the best teacher in his grade rather than the worst teacher. It is not a master’s degree, a teaching certificate, or experience that makes a teacher the best or the worst. The data shows that some teachers are simply better at raising achievement and that their talents are not revealed by credentials that would be on a resume (Downey et al., 2009). Since we can’t identify the better teachers when they are hired, it makes sense to reward teachers based on their students’ learning gains. If states introduced bonuses for teachers who raised achievement and gave bigger bonuses to teachers who raised disadvantaged students’ achievement, considerable progress might be made in narrowing the achievement gap. This would give teachers strong incentives to improve their teaching. But this could also have a negative side effect to the way teachers teach. If teachers know they will get bonuses by raising achievement they may find themselves teaching more to the test to achieve these gains. Although some teachers may be considered “the best” they need to be qualified to give a good education. Approximately 33% of high school students in high minority schools and 30% of high school students in high poverty schools are taught by teachers without a teaching license (Johnson, 2008). Unfortunately, we see schools with a large number of minority students and low-income populations have fewer qualified teachers than schools that have large white populations.

Another way to close the ongoing gap is to make people more aware of it. By making society as a whole more aware of the achievement gap and by showing them how it is affects our schools, we could help narrow it. If society becomes more aware of the ongoing gap problem, especially minority parents, then they can help their kids and teachers to find a way to get these students achieving at an equal rate. But if we don’t make people aware of this issue how are we as a society going to narrow the gap if no one knows about it. We see one successful national public awareness campaign that is currently underway. It is called Ed in ’08. The campaign is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and seeks to raise public awareness about all aspects of education. They also want to make education a priority of our presidential contenders and all the American people (King, 2009). This campaign is a great way to raise awareness but we need more campaigns like this one to help people realize how difficult the gap is for schools to face.

Not only should we be looking to change things in our schools but we should be focusing on changing things outside of school as well. We believe by improving schools we can reduce the black-white test score gap but these schools alone can’t eliminate the gap. Take this statistic to show how relying entirely on education can’t be our answer. The typical black four-year-olds vocabulary score falls below the twentieth percentile of the national distribution (Jencks, 2004). This shows that depending all on education to move a child up to the fiftieth percentile isn’t realistic, because if at four years old they are already that far behind then by the time they get to school it will be nearly impossible to catch them up. By changing black children’s preschool experience and changing their home experience, they can start out school achieving at the same rate. Because black preschoolers are concentrated in Head Start centers, getting Head Start to emphasize cognitive development should be a high priority (Downey et al., 2009). Parenting practices also have more impact on children's cognitive development than preschool practices (Jencks, 2004). We should be promoting better parenting practices for all parents using every tool we have, from preschool outreach programs and home visits by nurses to television programs, or anything else that looks promising. The No Child Left Behind Act took effect in 2002 and has required all fifty states to total student achievement data by racial subgroups of students, so that performance gains for all children can be tracked. The law also contains a host of accountability measures that penalize schools that are unable to show achievement gains by all subgroups of students. Although it may seem like this is a sure way to close the gap, there is actually little progress seen in the narrowing of the gap. When there was progress of narrowing the gap it was just because the achievement of higher performance subgroups went down. “There’s not much indication that N.C.L.B. is causing the kind of change we were all hoping for” said G. Gage Kingsbury, a testing expert who is a director at the Northwest Evaluation Association in Portland. He sums it up by saying “Trends after the law took effect mimic trends we were seeing before. But in terms of watershed change, that doesn’t seem to be happening” (Dubner, 2008, p.3). By the end of high school, black and Hispanic students' reading and mathematics skills are roughly the same as those of white students in the eighth grade (Wagner, 2008). That statistic should make many realize how important of a role the achievement gap plays in schools and students lives. It is one of the most challenging things for schools to deal with, but as a society we need to realize it’s something we are dealing with too, not just the schools are affected. There is no clear way as to how to fix it and unfortunately not enough is being done to try to fix it. Already we see black students are only about half as likely (and Hispanics about one-third as likely) as white students to earn a bachelor's degree by age 29 (Downey et al., 2009). If we keep letting the gap grow, than more and more disadvantaged students won’t be earning degrees or even graduating high school. Shouldn’t everyone in society be able to achieve education at the same rate?

References
Barnett, S. (2004). Preschool Matters . Retrieved March 8, 2010, from NIEER: http://nieer.org/psm/index.php?article=7 Closing the Achievement Gap, (2009). Retrieved March 8, 2010, from NGA Clearinghouse : http://www.subnet.nga.org/educlear/achievement/ Dietel, R. (2004, January). Achievement Gap in Our Schools. Retrieved March 8, 2010, from Center for Assessment and Evaluation of Student Learning: http://eoc.sc.gov/CmsPortal/AgencyHomePageTemplate.aspx?NRMODE=Published&NRNODEGUID={6D239C2F-64A3-42EE-A813-8D57402F6EFC}&NRORIGINALURL=/glossaryofterms/&NRCACHEHINT=NoModifyGuest#EOC Downey, C., English , F., & Steffy, B. (2009). 50 Ways to Close the Achievement Gap. Thousand Oaks, CA: Curriculum Management Systems. Dubner, S. (2008, March 18). How Can the Achievement Gap be Closed? New York Times. Retrieved March 8, 2010, from http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/03/18/how-can-the-achievement-gap-be-closed-a-freakonomics-quorum/ Jencks, C. (2004). Minding the Gap. Retrieved March 8, 2010, from PBS: http://www.pbs.org/closingtheachievementgap/debate_minding.html Johnson, C. (2008). A Significant Problem for African American Students. Retrieved March 8, 2010, from: http://www.nationalforum.com/Electronic%20Journal%20Volumes/Johnson,%20Clarence%20The%20Achievement%20Gap%20in%20Mathematics.pdf Kerachsky, S. (2010). The Nation's Report Card. Retrieved March 8, 2010, from National Center for education Statistics : http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/ King, E. (2009,

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