Eradicating the Achievement Gap

By Robertson, Harvetta | Black History Bulletin, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Eradicating the Achievement Gap


Robertson, Harvetta, Black History Bulletin


Introduction

It may be surprising to some that the achievement gap remains a looming concern in the twenty-first century. Surely, with advances in technology and the use of research-based instructional practices in American schools, all students would experience equal opportunities to learn, along with opportunities for continuous academic achievement and personal development. The reality, however, is that the goal of equal opportunity and academic achievement for all students remains just that--a goal. This is evidenced most obviously by federal legislation stating that no child would be left behind in American schools (1)--a goal that one would assume there was no need to verbalize, let alone to be signed into law. With this federal legislation in place to ensure that all students are afforded an opportunity for academic achievement, why, then, does a continued challenge need to be in place to support the learning of all students--their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic standing, gender, or language background notwithstanding? The contributors to this issue have addressed reasons for this challenge from various perspectives worthy of consideration. And, while it is obvious that the achievement gap will not disappear on its own, and that it will take continuous, purposeful efforts to significantly impact this challenge, it is also evident that the goal of eradicating the achievement gap must at all times be at the forefront.

Pulling it up by the roots

Eradicate is a powerful word. In fact, Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines it as "to do away with as completely as if by pulling up by the roots." (2) In a similar vein, the authors of this issue target methods for doing away with the academic achievement gap in much the same way--by pulling it up and away from its life-source, by its very roots. In this instance, the achievement gap's roots are synonymous with its origins and take several different, significant, and equally debilitating forms. One point of origin has been linked to teacher expectations. For example, teachers have been found to have lower expectations for their students of color than for their white or Asian students, believing students of color to be low achievers. Though research clearly shows that teachers' lowered expectations and beliefs about their students' performance negatively affect student achievement, (3) these expectations persist and student achievement suffers. However, on the contrary, there are identifiable correlates of schools that effectively serve all students regardless of race.

It has been found that when the prevailing belief of teachers is that students can achieve, the steps necessary for student success are taken. For this to occur, educators must have a strong sense of efficacy. When teachers possess a strong sense of efficacy, they become confident instructors who are willing to use a variety of instructional strategies and to go that extra mile when a student does not understand a concept the first time. These teachers plan, implement, and evaluate their teaching with their students' abilities, interests, and needs as their focus. The mere introduction of high expectations into the equation of instruction and student achievement makes a difference in improving student outcomes.

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Another point of origin for the achievement gap has been linked to student self-perception. Students' self-perceptions influence their performance. If students of color (or any students, for that matter) are convinced that they cannot or should not strive for excellence in school (because they lack the ability or perceive academic achievement as "acting white"), they exhibit behavior that is counterproductive to their academic goals. Therefore, it is imperative that parents, grandparents, community members, teachers, and friends teach students that academic achievement is a part of their historical background in order to create a mindset that includes a successful academic achievement foreground. …

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