Education Trust: Four ways of thinking about achievement gaps

The Education Trust has come out with a nifty little report, Gauging the Gaps: A Deeper Look at Student Achievement, that examines different ways of thinking about achievement gaps. Although EdTrust uses NAEP data to illustrate its points, this could be done with any achievement data.


EdTrust outlines four different perspectives when considering achievement gaps. Each has its own merits, but together they have more power than simply using one or two of them in isolation. At the end of the report, EdTrust includes several NAEP data tables that show the progress of each state along each of these perspectives.

Perspective 1: Simple gap narrowing

"Have absolute gaps in mean performance between groups decreased over time? Nationwide, low-income students and students of color perform, on average, below their peers. So it is imperative to evaluate whether we're helping these young people catch up." (p. 2)

Perspective 2: Progress for all

"Have all groups of students gained over time? Our country needs to improve achievement for all students and accelerate gains for those who lag behind. Reading performance for low-income fourth grade students nationwide inched up by four points from 2003 to 2007. This represents movement in the right direction but at far too slow a pace. Some states, however, improved much more rapidly than the nation as a whole." (p. 3)

Perspective 3: Gap size

"What is the current size of the gap between groups? In addition to examining how far a state has come in closing the gaps and looking at whether all students are gaining, it's important to know the extent of the gaps that remain. The current-year size of a state's gap suggests how far we have to go until race and income no longer play a significant role in student achievement. Nationally and in every state, low-income students trail their higher income peers in reading performance. Yet a closer scrutiny of state data shows that some are closer to achieving equitable results than others." (p. 4)

Perspective 4: Group comparisons across jurisdictions

"How does each group of students currently perform compared with their counterparts in other jurisdictions? Although many assume that certain groups of children perform about the same no matter where they attend school, comparisons of group performance across jurisdictions can reveal striking differences. In fact, dramatic variations in the achievement of similar groups of children occur across states or from one district to the next." (p. 4)

What do you think?

How does your school organization think about achievement gaps? Does it predominantly use only one or two of these perspectives? What could be done to increase your organization's capacity to use more or all of these perspectives? Is all of this even worthwhile?

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