Achievement Gap

The achievement gap refers to the observed, persistent disparity of educational measures between the performance of groups of students, especially groups defined by socioeconomic status (SES), race/ethnicity and gender. The achievement gap can be observed on a variety of measures, including standardized test scores, grade point average, dropout rates, and college enrollment and completion rates. While this article focuses on the achievement gap in the United States, the gap in achievement between lower income students and higher income students exists in all nations and it has been studied extensively in the U.S. and other countries, including the U.K. Various other gaps between groups exist around the globe as well.

In the U.S., research studies into the causes of gaps in student achievement between low-income minority students and middle-income white students have been ongoing since the 1966 publication of the report, "Equality of Educational Opportunity" (more widely known as the Coleman Report), commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education. That research suggested that both in-school factors and home/community factors impact the academic achievement of students and contribute to the gap. American education researcher David Berliner indicated that home/community influences are weighted more heavily, in part, due to the increased time that students spend at home and in their communities compared to the amount of time spent in school, and that the out-of-school factors influencing children in poverty differ significantly from those typically affecting middle income children.

The achievement gap, as noted in the trend data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, has become a focal point of education reform efforts. Groups like The Education Trust, Democrats for Education Reform and the Education Equality Project have made it their mission to close the achievement gap. Efforts to combat the gap have been numerous but fragmented, and have ranged from affirmative action and multicultural education to finance equalization, improving teacher quality, and school testing and accountability programs to create equal educational opportunities.

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