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Achievement Gaps
Literature Library


What are the Achievement Gaps?

  1. Achievement Gap in Race

Authors Say Race Predicts Academic Achievement

Two writers state that there is a large achievement gap in schools today and the problem is only getting worse.

This reports some of the ideas and findings from the following source:

Johnston, R. C., & Viadero, D. (2000, March 15). Unmet promise: Raising minority achievement.Education Week. Retrieved April 2, 2002, from

To see other reports that originated from this same citation, go to the bibliography.

Johnston and Viadero claim a child’s race will predict "their success in school, whether they go to college, and how much money they will earn as adults" (¶ 2).According to the authors' research, by the year 2019, whites will be twice as likely as African Americans and three times as likely as Hispanics to hold college degrees. The authors claim that national tests in math and English demonstrate that 12th grade African Americans and Hispanics score similar to white 8th graders.

This cleavage in academic achievement among different races is known as the "achievement gap." Evidence of the achievement gap can be found in "test scores, grades, course selection, and college completion" (¶ 5).As the number and proportion of Hispanic students rapidly increases and the complexity of jobs increases (i.e., the level of technical knowledge required increases), the authors claim that the seriousness of the achievement gap will increase enormously.

In short, unless America effectively narrows the achievement gap between whites and minorities, we are looking at a looming crisis.

Societal Changes Are Mirrored in Schools

Johnston and Viadero claim that African American, Hispanic, and American Indian students currently account for one-third of the total children in the nation’s K&–12 classrooms and will account for two-thirds of the total population in the next 15 years.

Starting as early as kindergarten, minority students are already lagging behind white students in reading and math. According to the authors, the achievement gap widens in elementary school and then remains fixed throughout high school. “For African Americans to catch up by the time they get to high school, they’re going to have to work twice as hard” (Societal Changes section, ¶ 3).

The 1970s and 1980s Saw a Diminishing Gap

During the 1970s, African American and Hispanic students actually narrowed the gap between themselves and the white students. Events such as the civil rights movement, school desegregation, and federal anti-poverty programs helped support African-Americans. In the 1970s, African Americans and Hispanics were graduating, although to a lesser extent,from high school and enrolling in college at a rate similar to those of white students (although there was a difference between graduation rates of African American and Hispanic students from college, compared to white students).

Strangely, and abruptly, that progress halted in the late 1980s. The authors cite Kati Haycock, the executive director of the Education Trust, who blames the cessation of progress on the fact that in the 1970s, the focus was on teaching "very rudimentary skills." Once African American and Hispanic students mastered those skills, there were no higher level skill strategies set in place to further their achievement, so their progress halted. The authors also cite other facts as adding to the lack of progress:

  • In 1997&–1998,almost half of New York City’s teaching force failed their math certification programs.

  • In Providence, Rhode Island, although 23% of the student population is black, they only accounted for 9% of the Advanced Placement classes.

  • In San Francisco, African American students are suspended from school three times as often as other students (in proportion to the population).

A Variety of Factors Influences the Achievement Gap

The authors conclude that it is necessary is to first determine what the overlapping factors are, and then figure out how to overcome them in a sustainable way.


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