Advancing Research, Improving Education
Closing the Texas Achievement Gap
What is the achievement gap and why should I care? What is the extent of the achievement gap in Texas? What can I do to help close the achievement gap?

What is the achievement gap and why should I care?

The U.S. Department of Education describes the achievement gap as “the difference in academic performance between different ethnic groups.” Though this is a concise and useful definition, the achievement gap is, in fact, a multifaceted problem that requires examination from multiple perspectives.

From the standpoint of federal expectations, the No Child Left Behind Act requires schools, districts, and state educational systems to meet annual targets for improvement in identified academic areas, including mathematics—not only for their student populations as a whole, but for each of several identified subgroups: African American, Hispanic, White, economically disadvantaged, special education, and limited English proficiency (LEP). In other words, schools, districts, and states are ultimately accountable if the achievement rate of any of these subgroups of students falls behind. In light of annually increasingly targets, shifting demographics, and the upcoming addition of science targets, more schools and districts are at risk than many people realize.

Educators are often the most eloquent in describing the achievement gap because they are closest to the students who make up the statistics. At a recent SEDL-sponsored networking forum for mathematics and science educators, participants offered the following definitions of the achievement gap:

“The difference between a child’s potential and his/her actual achievement.”

“The acceptance of mediocrity in expectations, values, and people.”

“The unacceptable difference in achievement … and academic resources.”

While education goals often appear to center around meeting accountability standards, these definitions reveal that many educators harbor an underlying passion for helping students realize their full potential as individuals, not simply passing a test.

The Business Community
The business community recognizes that low academic achievement has far-reaching implications for society at large. The authors of The New Texas Challenge: Population Change and the Future of Texas warn that if demographic trends and existing disparities in educational attainment and household income persist, the population of Texas will be poorer, less well educated, and more in need of numerous forms of state services, which the state will be less able to provide. In turn, Texas will likely be less competitive in the increasingly international labor and other markets.

Legislators and other policymakers play a crucial role in addressing these issues for the welfare of the community at large, as well as for the individual. They set priorities and coordinate efforts through establishment of academic standards and the allocation of resources. In order to make effective decisions, policymakers need access to accurate data and research-based conclusions related to teaching, learning, and school improvement strategies.

Finally, the participation of parents is an essential component of education reform strategies. Students whose parents are involved in their education generally have higher grades and test scores, better attendance, higher graduation rates, and greater enrollment in postsecondary education. According to National PTA President Linda Hodge:

“It has been proven that parent involvement transcends many of the barriers that contribute to the achievement gap, such as socio-economic status, ethnic/racial background, and the parents' level of education."


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