Puzzling and Problematic – Why Does the Achievement Gap Persist?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013 -- Ashlee Tatum-Eckley

Achievement gaps occur when one group of students outperforms another group and the difference in average scores for the two groups is statistically significant. - National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)

The achievement gap is not a difficult concept to understand. What is becoming increasingly difficult is explaining why the gap persists, and why – despite legal, curricular, and other efforts – we have found closing the gap to be so challenging. As Douglas Haller states in the Huffington Post, “Despite over five decades of effort to rectify imbalances, significant difference in achievement persist.”  But the situation is not without hope, as he continues, “To some degree, the hard work of educators has paid off; NAEP scores for all students have improved.” And “yet, gaps persist, causing many to puzzle about their tenacious hold on the U.S. education system.”

Of particular concern are demographic changes projected to occur by 2050.  By that time, the white population will decrease to 49 percent while the Latino population will grow to as much as 40 percent. These and other trends will ensure that the achievement gap will continue to be a topic of conversation, and possibly of frustration.

Haller goes on to cite Dr. Robert Russell, and his three-faceted framework for long-term success for lagging student populations. The framework is based on reaching those populations through community valued resources and events.

  • Engagement: activities, events, media that promote interest in science and motivation to get involved
  • Capacity: programs and resources that develop knowledge and intellectual discipline (self-regulation)
  • Continuity: a support system, that provides information, guidance, and access to continual opportunities for development

What the ultimate solutions are is unknown. But there is one resource available that must be maximized: each other. Effective instructional strategies and pedagogical best practices are a key to student success across the board, and those are resources that teachers can share with each other, by sharing themselves with their peers.

In what ways do you share teaching strategies with your peers? What have you found to be effective strategies for closing the achievement gaps you have found in your own classroom? How do you see the achievement gap trending? The sooner we start sharing, the sooner we can make real progress. 

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