The achievement gap is a well-documented phenomenon in American schools that has been talked about to at least some extent for over 40 years. Despite all that chatter, the achievement gap is still alive and well in American K-12 schools.
A University of Chicago report found that closing the achievement gap between students of color, or with documented economic disadvantages, was completely stagnant from 1990 to 2000. A 2007 report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that white students scored an average of 26 points higher on reading and math standardized tests for 4th and 8th grade (on a scale of 0 to 500). A recognition of the fact that the achievement gap exists - and that it is in everyone's best interest to close it - has become a standard of the K-12 education conversation.
Though conditions are improving, K-12 students that are minorities or come from economically disadvantaged circumstances are more likely to achieve less in school, and even drop out totally, than their peers. The days of letting children fall by the wayside simply because of home environment or skin color are becoming a thing of past, as more educators and even some politicians vocalize the need to level the achievement playing field.
Closing the achievement gap is a task that falls most heavily on state lawmakers. Here's a look at some of the steps states are taking to give all students a better chance at academic success:
In 2011, Oregon was one of just five states with an achievement gap that got wider since 2003. This was enough to make state lawmakers declare an education "emergency" and draft the Impact of Poverty on Education Act that was signed into law this June. The bill outlines an analysis of the way the state currently assesses the "impact of poverty on educational attainment." It calls for an evaluation of in-class activities, as well as opportunities (or lack thereof) provided outside of school hours. The Department of Education has one year to complete this evaluation and turn in the findings, along with proposed legislative changes, by July 1, 2014.
As of July 1, 2012 students in Kindergarten through 2nd grade that attend schools that are part of "achievement districts" will be required to take a specific standardized test. The test is designed to identify not only the academic placement of the students but also to look for any disparities that need to be addressed early on. Testing disadvantaged students in the earliest K-12 stages is a smart way to build the right foundation for the rest of the school career.
In 2012, Georgia stepped up its efforts to close the achievement gap by revising its System Indicators of Quality (or school report cards) to encourage schools to work harder toward the end goal. Financial awards to schools are now based, at least partially, on a reduction of the achievement gap. Schools that have "unacceptable progress" when it comes to closing the achievement gap are targeted for further state assistance and even intervention where warranted.
This representative sample of what states are doing to close achievement gaps has a mixture of techniques. All include closer evaluation of schools and specific student groups that have traditionally contributed to a rise in the achievement gap. That's certainly a step in the right direction but will all of that evaluation add up to better long-term results for students at risk of falling through the achievement gap? Learning opportunities for at-risk students must improve if significant improvement is expected in the coming decade.
If you could implement one tactic for closing the achievement gap, what would it be?