Achievement Gaps

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Achievement gaps in education create systemic cycles of limitation and lack of opportunity for predominantly minority students. The measuring systems to address this issue have gone through ups and downs in their effectiveness, with corresponding swings in achievement. Recent reforms to education funding and program freedoms have given educators new chances to creatively implement their wisdom on site when before they would have been inhibited by standardization. Learning from past mistakes, and overcoming stigmas is the next step for closing achievement gaps. 

Gaps in Opportunity 

Achievement gaps in education are systemic low performance of certain demographics which have been identified by research and pattern observation from history. President Obama’s administration has made addressing/closing these achievement gaps a top priority, and has gone a long way to increase strategic funding and creative programs to aid these students. The main categories experiencing achievement gaps are:

Student Groups Experiencing Achievement Gaps

Racial and ethnic minorities

English language learners

Students with disabilities


Students from low-income families (NEA)

While the Obama administration has tried addressing this issue with strategic funding, but research shows this is not always helpful. In order to address this Every Student Succeeds

(Figure 1 omitted for preview. Available via download). 

Act (ESSA) has been passed, as well as Race to the Top. Both measures seek to increase funding where it is not only but where it will be applied most effectively through empowering teachers to implement their onsite knowledge. This has led to changes in which do not punish teachers for the results of tests. Rather than attach funding to the results, results are used to inform changes. this is measured through, 

Indicators of Achievement Gaps

Performance on tests (statewide tests, SATs, etc.)

Access to key opportunities (advanced mathematics, physics, higher education, etc.)

Attainments (high school diploma, college degree, employment) (NEA)

When analyzing how schools can apply their strategic funding educators must analyze what aspects are in their control and which are not. This is done through comparisons such as:

(Figure 2 omitted for preview. Available via download). 

This chart expands to include many which may or may not contribute to achievement gaps. Educators analyze these factors when planning their unique approach to closing these gaps:

Teacher- and Teaching-Related Factors

Students' Background

Student-Related Factors

Education Funding Shortfalls

Families' Support of Students' Learning (NEA)

Historically intervention in achievement gaps techniques have been effective, but understanding how has been a challenge. After all, between 1970 and 1988, the achievement gap between African American and white students was cut in half, and the gap separating Latinos and whites declined by one-third. That progress came to a halt around 1988, however, and since that time, the gaps have widened. (Haycock)

Understanding how and why these gaps have widened has been going on ever since. However, the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) attempted to address a sensitive issue with a sledgehammer, doing more damage than good. 

Recent reforms have done away with some of the most damaging aspects of NCLB, but not before drastically increasing gaps and the stigmas which go with them. When researchers ask, “’What about the things that the adults are always talking about—neighborhood violence, single-parent homes, and so on?’-the young people's responses are fascinating. ‘Sure, those things matter…But what hurts us more is that you teach us less’” (Haycock). The stigma attached to the gap creates cycles of poor expectations which may influence how children are treated. 

The need for parental engagement has come to the forefront of this discussion as the impact of early development has become better known. Other parental factors which help lessen the achievement gap :

Reading to children

Getting enough sleep

Good nutrition

Having both parents around

Not raising a child watching television or over-exposing them to digital media. (Barton)

Understanding this President Obama has worked to increase access to health care, improve nutrition in schools, and encourage parental engagement. Analyzing this through the lens of, 

 Child Trends also found that differences in parent involvement by race/ethnicity and income tend to show up in situations that require deeper involvement. Most parents attend scheduled meetings with teachers, but parents of black and Hispanic students and low-income parents are much less likely than parents of white students are to attend a school event, do volunteer work, or serve on a committee. (Barton)

Research has also indicated that struggling student groups in the achievement gap who need aid the most are often the least likely to get it. It has been found that, “The dirty little secret is that there are large numbers of unqualified individuals teaching, and they are disproportionately assigned to teach children of color and children from impoverished backgrounds” (Barton). Recent legislation has sought to overcome this limitation, but it is largely up to the schools to address this as they invite higher quality teachers in where they are most needed. 


Achievement gaps persist and are growing more divisive as it becomes more entrenched in minority cultures. While many factors are involved educators persist in doing what they can to help children see the brightest goal for their learning. Reform at a national level is trickling down through the states as they compete with each other for new creative opportunities at funding. However, much more is needed in parental engagement, as it provides the most lasting impact but is the most difficult to achieve.


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Works Cited

Barton, Paul E. “Why Does the Gap Persist?” Educational Leadership, Vol. 62.3 (2001) Retrieved from:¢.aspx

Camera, Lauren. “Achievement Gap Between White and Black Students Still Gaping.” US News, 13 Jan. 2016. Retrieved from:

Haychock, Kati. “Closing the Achievement Gap.” Educational Leadership, Vol. 58.6 (2001). Retrieved from:

NEA. “Students Affected by Achievement Gaps.”, 2016. Retrieved from: