Why Do the Achievement Gaps Exist?
A researcher argues that explanations for the white-minority achievement gap must change for different groups at different points in time to account for fluctuations in the achievement gap trends.
This reports some of the ideas and findings from the following source:
Lee, J. (2002). Racial and ethnic achievement gap trends: Reversing the progress toward equity?Educational Researcher, 31,3-12.
To see other reports that originated from this same citation, go to the bibliography.
Why is there an academic achievement gap between white students and black and Hispanic students?
Educational researcher Jaekyung Lee says that a closer look at the fluctuations in achievement gap trends over the past30 years indicates that most explanations are too simplistic.
While neither of these approaches is wrong, they are both incomplete.
Lee says that long-term trends in U.S. student scores are more complex than many explanations would suggest. By looking at these trends more closely, Lee argues that many standard explanations are not adequate.
Lee also makes the important observation that different explanations may be needed:
In order to examine the changes in the achievement gap over time, Lee looks at the long-term trends report of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The NAEP has been tracking student knowledge in different subject areas for about30 years. The NAEP scores provide the best national, long-term indication of student knowledge of subject areas that are currently available.
Lee notes that student scores on the NAEP test have changed over time, but in different ways and for different groups at different times. For instance:
Drawing on the NAEP trends, we can see that the "shape" of the achievement gap trend over time is very different for white students than for black students. See Figures 1 and 2.
Lee points out that students at different achievement levels gained at different rates during different periods. For instance:
Lee says that this change coincided with a widespread change in curriculum. He says the shift has been from minimum standards focusing on basic skills to an emphasis on high standards focusing on advanced content and higher order thinking skills. Lee thinks that while the earlier curricular focus may have helped the lower performing students more, the shift to higher order thinking skills may benefit the higher performing students more.
However, the situation is more complex than this, says Lee. When race is factored in, the situation becomes less clear.
Lee says that these patterns raise some perplexing questions:
The answers, says Lee, remain to be found.
Lee looks at a number of standard explanations of the achievement gap and finds that none of them can adequately explain the above trends. For the three racial groups, he looks at:
Lee's conclusion is that none of these factors can adequately explain why different racial groups changed their NAEP scores when they did and in the ways that they did.
Why do standard explanations of the minority-white achievement gap inadequately explain fluctuations in the gap for different racial and ethnic groups over time?
Why do standard explanations of the minority-white achievement gap inadequately explain fluctuations in the gap for students at different achievement levels over time?
Jaekyung Lee draws on the 1999 Long Term Trends report of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Lee compares expected and actual achievement gap trends.
This research was supported by the National Academy of Education and a Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship.
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