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Achievement Gaps
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Can the Achievement Gaps be Overcome?

  1. Schools that are Successful in Closing the Achievement Gaps

What Methods Have Some Schools Adopted to Remedy the Achievement Gap?

Researchers studying the disparities in achievement between white and black students have found that understanding and remedying this problem requires new methods such as those adopted by several innovative school districts.

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

Sadowski, M. (2001, November/December). Closing the gap one school at a time.Harvard Education Letter. Retrieved August 8, 2002, from

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

Author Michael Sadowski examines three schools or school districts that have made serious efforts to close the test score gap between whites and minorities. He finds a number of different tactics.

Fort Wayne Community Schools

The Fort Wayne, Indiana, school district is 26% black. School officials have launched a three-pronged attack designed to address the achievement gap in their school system.



Gathering data. To better understand the nature of the problem, officials have been investigating black-white differences in discipline referral, dropping out, educational aspirations, and perceptions of the school climate.

Implementing changes. The district has begun diversity training for staff, used input from groups across age and racial lines to develop school improvement plans, and revised the curriculum so that cultural contributions from people of color are better represented.

Creating new programs. The district has also created new mentoring programs as well as an orientation for freshmen designed to teach them skills to manage the transition to high school more successfully. In addition, the district has hired a full-time conflict mediator for each middle and high school.

In the past two years, the gap in how black and white students measure the school climate in response to survey questions has narrowed by about 60%.

The academic dropout rate for black students has fallen from 10.4% in the 1993-1994 school year to 2.6% for the most recent year. This number is less than one percentage point away from the dropout rate for white students. Scores on the statewide tests of educational proficiency have also begun to narrow. For example, the score difference between black and white8thgraders in Fort Wayne has narrowed by 1.5% overall for the tests in reading, math, and language.

El Cerrito High School

Joan Cone, an English teacher at El Cerrito High in California, found that black students were affected by lower expectations for their own achievement. She implemented a restructuring of the whole English department to combat this problem. This restructuring included:



Heterogeneous grouping. Instead of being tracked into English classes according to ability throughout their high school years, students are now heterogeneously grouped in grades nine and ten. Students in upper grades can choose from a wider variety of electives.

Reforming the curriculum. The curriculum in some of the elective courses for the higher grades is strongly centered around literature by writers of color.

Expanding opportunities. Enrollment in Advanced Placement courses has been opened up. “There are kids taking AP now who would never be given a chance at other schools,” Cone says. “Will they all pass the AP Exam? Maybe not. But at least we didn’t say that they couldn’t” (Classroom-Level Research section, ¶ 4).

Now more than 20% of the students in Cone’s AP classes are African American, and 8% are Latino.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district in North Carolina has been seeking to raise students’ test scores. Their research has found that the schools with lower test scores tend to be staffed by teachers who have less experience, fewer advanced degrees, and higher absenteeism. In response, they focused their efforts on improving teaching.



Encouraging training. Programs have been created to help teachers earn their master’s degrees.

Reducing student-teacher ratios. Schools that are identified as having “high need” have been allocated additional staff.

Performance incentives. Staff in schools where test scores improve receive cash bonuses.

In the district, black students’ scores on state end-of-grade reading tests have risen by 18 percentage points since 1995-1996. The gap between black and white students has narrowed by 9 percentage points.

Warning: Results Are Preliminary

The improvement seen in schools in Fort Wayne, El Cerrito, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, while measurable, is still too preliminary to draw long-term conclusions. In fact, as these cases show, the effort to remedy the disparity between black and white students’ achievement requires a large-scale, long-term enterprise of collecting information on student attitudes, teacher satisfaction, class size, and tracking, in addition to reforming the curriculum and other school programs.

Research Design:

The author surveys findings on explaining and reducing the achievement gap based on studies conducted by school districts in Indiana, Ohio, California, and North Carolina.


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