Why Do the Achievement Gaps Exist?
Progress in closing the racial and economic gap in student performance halted during the 1990s. States can and have resumed progress by having uniform standards, making the curriculum challenging, helping students catch up, and providing good teachers.
This reports some of the ideas and findings from the following source:
Haycock, K. (2002). State policy levers: Closing the achievement gap.The State Education Standard, 3,6-13.
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New accountability standards now require states to break student achievement data down by race and class. Kati Haycock, director of Education Trust, discusses what states can expect to find and what they can do about gaps in performance among different groups of students.
Between 1970 and 1988, the difference in performance between white and minority students fell 50% for African Americans and 33% for Latinos. However, Haycock says that the racial achievement gap held steady during the 1990s and even grew slightly among 17-year-olds in reading and among 13-year-olds in mathematics. Black and Latino students nearing high school graduation still perform at the same level as white 8th graders.
This gap in achievement shows up as a gap in attainment as well. Haycock says that about 90% of whites aged 18&24 have a high school degree compared with 81% of African Americans and 63% of Latinos. Blacks are only half as likely and Latinos only one-third as likely to get a college degree as whites by age 29.
Many people believe that poverty or single-parent families cause low achievement. However, Haycock says that poor children in some schools or poor schools in some states perform very well. A recent national survey found that over 4,500 schools that were in the top third of their state in terms of poverty and minority enrollment were in the top third in achievement as well.
Haycock says that some states, such as North Carolina, Connecticut, and Texas, continued to make progress in closing the achievement gap during the 1990s. African American 8th graders in Texas, for example, now outperform their white peers in seven other states. Poverty, violence, and parental education matter, according to Haycock, but research shows that low expectations and less-challenging classes matter more.
Since research shows that what schools do matters, Haycock focuses on the following changes in the educational system that have proven helpful in closing the racial and economic achievement gap:
Haycock says that El Paso, Texas is an example of a school district that has worked hard to close the achievement gap. Local education leaders set high standards for students and provided more training and support for teachers. The results, says Haycock, are "no more low-performing schools and increased achievement for all groups of students, with bigger increases among the groups that have historically been behind" (p. 12).
Haycock concludes by offering a few suggestions on how state policymakers can begin to focus on the "academic core":
This article is based on an overview of trends in racial and economic differences in educational achievement and a review of research on how to close this achievement gap.
Support was provided by the Education Trust, established in 1992 to advocate for improved K&16 student achievement, especially the poor or members of a minority group.
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