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Five Years, Little Improvement in Factors Contributing to Achievement Gap



An Educational Testing Service study in 2003 found that students of color, as compared to White students, were less likely to be engaged in rigorous academic course work, taught by certified teachers and live in two-parent homes, while they were more likely to be placed in crowded classes and attend school hungry. What’s changed in five years? Very “little.”


In a new report “Parsing the Achievement Gap II,” ETS revisited its findings and found that most gaps in both academic and life experiences between minority and White students persist.


ETS uses 16 factors, including birth weight, lead poisoning, parental involvement and teacher quality, to assess whether White and minority students are reaching parity in their experience with each factor.


Not surprisingly, the report concluded that while a few of the gaps in issues related to achievement have narrowed and a few have widened, overall, the gaps identified in the previous studies remain unaltered.


“We know that the achievement gap is real. It has deep roots in children’s lives. It’s present when kids start school. It impacts subsequent educational attainment. And it results in lifelong disadvantages ranging from economic to social to health and even the life expectancy,” Richard Coley, co-author of the report, said during a press conference at the National Press Club.


“The cognitive development of children is affected not only by their access to quality education but also by what happens to them outside of school. Closing the achievement gap will require closing gaps in social and economic conditions as well,” Coley added.


The new report reveals that minority and low-income students are still less likely to have certified teachers or teachers with a major or minor in their subject of teaching. One-fifth of Black and Hispanic students have teachers who aren’t certified, compared to about one-tenth of White students.


Minority and low-income students still are more likely to attend schools with high incidence of teacher absence and teacher turnover. In 2007, 52 percent of Black and 44 percent of Hispanic eighth graders had a teacher who left before the end of the school year, compared to 28 percent of White students.


According to the report, minority and low-income children were still more likely to be “food insecure” or attend school while hungry. While the White-Black gap in this area was unchanged, the White-Hispanic gap narrowed.


This is an important factor because students do not learn when they are hungry, the report insisted.


Minority students continue to be less likely to live with two parents, which can have grave academic consequences. Data compiled by ETS showed that students in single-parent homes experience less academic success, more behavior and psychological problems, and less economic well-being in adulthood.


The good news, the report noted, is that the steady decline in the number of two-parent families among White, Black and other minorities has recently stopped.


Finally, the new report underscored that the gap in parent participation between White and minority students is improving. White students’ parents are still more likely to attend a school event or volunteer, but the gap in the number of minority students’ parents attending a school event is improving.

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