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ACHIEVEMENTGAP

Closelyrelatedtolearninggap(http://edglossary.org/learninggap/)andopportunitygap
(http://edglossary.org/opportunitygap/),thetermachievementgapreferstoanysignificantandpersistentdisparityin
academicperformanceoreducationalattainmentbetweendifferentgroupsofstudents,suchaswhitestudentsandminorities,
forexample,orstudentsfromhigherincomeandlowerincomehouseholds.
Generallyspeaking,achievementgapreferstooutputstheunequalorinequitabledistributionof
educationalresultsandbenefitswhileopportunitygapreferstoinputstheunequalorinequitable
distributionofresourcesandopportunities.Learninggapreferstorelativeperformanceofindividualstudents
i.e.,thedisparitybetweenwhatstudentshaveactuallylearnedandwhattheywereexpectedtolearnata
particularageorgradelevel.

Whileparticularachievementgapsmayvarysignificantlyindegreeorseverityfromgrouptogrouporplacetoplace,
achievementgapsaredefinedbytheirconsistencyandpersistencei.e.,achievementgapsarenottypicallyisolatedorpassing
events,butobservableandpredictabletrendsthatremainrelativelystableandenduringovertime.Whileitispossiblethatsome
educatorsmayuseachievementgapinreferencetoindividualstudentachievement,itismorelikelythatatermsuchas
learninggapwillbeused:achievementgapnearlyalwaysreferstodisparitiesofachievementbetweenoramongstudent
groups.
ThemostcommonlydiscussedachievementgapintheUnitedStatesisthepersistentdisparityinnationalstandardizedtest
scores(http://edglossary.org/standardizedtest/)betweenwhiteandAsianAmericanstudents,twogroupsthatscorehigher
onaverage,andAfricanAmericanandHispanicstudents,twogroupsthatscoreloweronaverage.Anotherachievementgap
thathasreceivedconsiderableattentioninrecentyearsisthelaggingperformanceofAmericanstudentsoninternationaltests
incomparisontostudentsfromotherdevelopedcountries.Althoughdisparitiesintestscorestendtobethemostdiscussed,
scrutinized,andreportedachievementgaps,educationalperformanceandattainmentdisparitiesmayappearinawidevariety
ofdatasets,includinggraduationrates,collegeenrollmentrates,collegecompletionrates,coursegrades,dropoutrates,
absenteeismrates,anddisciplinaryinfractions,amongmanyotherpossiblecategoriesofstudentachievementdatatrackedby
governmentagencies,districts,andschools.
Thefollowinglistprovidesarepresentativesampleofthemajorstudentsubgroupsthattendtoexhibitachievementgaps:
Whiteandminoritystudents
Maleandfemalestudents
Studentsfromhigherincomeandlowerincomehouseholdsandcommunities
NativeEnglishspeakingstudentsandstudentswhoarelearningEnglishorwhocannotspeakEnglish,includingrecently
arrivedimmigrantorrefugeestudents(seeEnglishlanguagelearner(http://edglossary.org/englishlanguage
learner/))
Nondisabledstudentsandstudentswithphysicalorlearningdisabilities
Studentswhoseparentshaveearnedacollegedegreeandstudentswhoseparentshavenotearnedacollegedegree
(thesestudentsareoftencalledfirstgenerationiftheydecidetoenrollincollege)
Americanstudentsandstudentsfromothercountries
Agrowingbodyofeducationalresearchisdevotedtostudyingtheunderlyingcausesofachievementgapsandthestrategies
educatorsareemployingtoaddressthem.Yetthecausesareoftensocomplexandoverlappingthatitisnearlyimpossibleto
determineallthefactorsthatmaygiverisetoparticularachievementgapsorcontributetotheirpersistence.Thefollowinglist,

however,isarepresentativeselectionofafewunderlyingcausesidentifiedbyeducatorsandresearchers:
Poverty,incomeinequality,andlowersocioeconomicstatuscontributingtoreducedaccess
(http://edglossary.org/access/)toeducationalopportunities,familialsupport,goodnutrition,healthcare,andother
factorsthattendcontributetostrongereducationalachievement.
Minoritystatusgivingrisetoracism,prejudice,stereotyping,ethnicbias,andinstitutionalizedpredispositionssuchas
thetendencyinschoolstoloweracademicexpectationsforminoritiesorenrolltheminlesschallengingcoursesthat
maynegativelyaffecteducationalachievement.Forarelateddiscussion,seestereotypethreat
(http://edglossary.org/stereotypethreat/).
Lowerqualityschools,ineffectiveteaching,studentovercrowding,dilapidatedschoolfacilities,andinferioreducational
resources,programs,andopportunitiesineconomicallydisadvantagedschoolsandcommunities.
Thedisproportionaterepresentationofminorityandlowerincomestudentsinthelowestachievingschools,lowerlevel
academicclasses,andcoursestaughtbytheleastexperiencedoreffectiveteachers.
Parentandfamilyfactorssuchasloweducationalattainment,unemployment,orfamilialinstabilitycontributingtoreduced
academicmotivation,disruptededucation,orlowereducationalandcareeraspirations.
LittleornoEnglishlanguageunderstanding,fluency,orliteracycontributingtoeducationalunderperformance,decreased
academicmotivation,orhigherdropoutrates.
Flawedtestingandassessment(http://edglossary.org/assessment/)designsthatmayinadvertentlyskewscoresfor
certaingroupsofstudentsoverothers,suchascomputerbasedtestsadministeredtostudentswithlowtechnological
literacyorteststhatarewrittenwithaculturalbiasanduseterms,concepts,andsituationsthatmaybeless
understandabletocertaingroupsofstudents,suchasurbanminoritiesorthechildrenofimmigrantfamilies.Foramore
detaileddiscussion,seetestbias(http://edglossary.org/testbias/).
ThestructureoftheAmericansystemofpublicschoolingandteacherpreparationcontributingtoloweracademic
performanceincomparisontosomehigherperformingeducationsystems(http://edglossary.org/educationsystem/)
inotherdevelopedcountries.Inthiscase,afewinternationallyadministeredtestsandstudiesparticularlythe
ProgrammeforInternationalStudentAssessment(http://www.oecd.org/pisa/),theTrendsinInternational
MathematicsandScienceStudy(http://timss.bc.edu/),andtheProgressinInternationalReadingLiteracyStudy
(http://timss.bc.edu/)providethecomparativeperformancedatausedtodetermineinternationalachievementgaps.

Reform
Intheeducationcommunity,closingachievementgapsiswidelyconsideredtobeoneofthemajorchallengesfacingthe
Americanpubliceducationsystem.Itisalsotendstobeoneofthetopprioritiesidentifiedbyeducators,policymakers,elected
officials,andothersworkingtoimprovetheeducationsystemandindividualschools.Theachievementgapissueisclosely
relatedtotheconceptofequity(http://edglossary.org/equity/)fairnessineducation,equalaccess
(http://edglossary.org/access/)tolearningopportunities,andgreaterequalityineducationalachievement,attainment,and
benefits.
Thegrowinguseofeducationdatabyschools,governmentagencies,andthemedia,aswellastheincreasingsophisticationof
thetechnologiesusedtotrackinformationrelatedtotheacademicachievementandeducationalattainmentofstudents,have
exposedachievementgapsthatmayhavebeenunidentified,overlooked,orignoredinpastdecades.Thisexposurehasnot
onlyraisedawarenessabouttheexistenceofachievementgaps,butithascontributedtoincreasedscrutinyofstudent
achievementspecifically,theachievementofstudentsonthelowerendofanachievementgapandgrowingcallstoaddress
theproblem.Forexample,the2001reauthorizationoftheElementaryandSecondaryEducationActcommonlyknownasthe
NoChildLeftBehindActrequiresschoolsandstatestocollectandreportstudentachievementdataformultiplestudent
subgroups(amongmanyotherprovisions).Whilethecontroversiallegislationistheobjectofongoingnationaldebate,one
statedintentistoidentify,address,andultimatelyeliminateachievementgaps.Manyotherfederal,state,andinstitutional
policiessuchasuniversalaccesstofreepublicpreschoolsoraffirmativeactioninpostsecondaryadmissiondecisions
representadditionaleffortsintendedtoaddressachievementgaps.

Atthedistrictandschoollevel,administratorsandteachersmayemployawidevarietyofstrategiestoreduceoreliminate
achievementgaps.Infact,itcouldbearguedthatmosteducationreformstrategiesareeitherdirectlyorindirectlyintendedto
addressachievementgaps,giventhatcallsforreformtypicallyresultfromperceivedunderperformanceandadesireto
improvetheeducationalachievementoflowperformingstudents.Itshouldbenoted,however,thatdespitethedramatically
increasedattentiontoachievementgapsinAmericanpubliceducation,anddecadesofwellintentionedreformeffortsby
educatorsandpolicymakers,achievementgapshavenotonlypersisted,butprogresshasbeenmodestatbest(andinsome
casesachievementgapshaveactuallywidened).

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