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Superintendent: What is an Achievement Gap?

What is an Achievement Gap?

The achievement gap refers to differences in academic performance between groups of students. Most often, it describes the achievement differences between minority groups as outlined in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), better known as No Child Left Behind.  Group performance scores that are separated, or disaggregated, from the total include students identified as Hispanic/Latino; American Indian or Alaskan Native; Asian/Pacific Islander; Black or African American, Economically Disadvantaged; Non- or Limited English Proficient; and students with Educational Disabilities.  In most school districts there is a distinction between the “whole school” performance and scores of many disaggregated sub-groups. The score disparity represents an “achievement gap”. In Salem, the greatest disparity occurs between the performance of regular education and special education students.  There are also disparities in the academic achievement of students from low-income and financially better-off families.   Nationwide efforts are underway to address this ongoing concern.  As is true across the country, in Salem the achievement gap shows up in student grades, standardized-test scores, course selection, dropout rates, and post-secondary plans.

Nationally there always have been achievement differences, but schools traditionally ignored the underperformance of specific minority groups.  Scores of the whole offset lower sub-group scores.  With the availability of more information and data, schools are responsible for addressing performance disparities.  In our district officials are analyzing the results of all students and identifying strategies to better support underperforming groups.  This “focused monitoring” effort will directly target the math performance of learning disabled students in grades four through seven. However, there are initiatives underway at all levels to support and assist our students. 

Federal law specifically targets the achievement gap. It requires states to disaggregate student achievement data by subgroups so that performance gains for all children can be tracked. Accountability measures penalize schools that are unable to show achievement gains by all subgroups, but there is an overriding moral imperative to advance the achievement of all children.  Salem School District officials are working diligently to meet that imperative.