What We Can Do About the Achievement Gap
Achievement gap, as a long existing historical problem caused by uneven education results, has been accepting attention and discussions by scholars and experts. It is not only influencing the individual’s future, but also affecting the pace of the development and the economy of the nation. Although the achievement gap has giant differences between African Americans and White students since 1950s, the national trend has been declining and became stable recent years.
There are three main causes to the giant achievement gap: racial differences, school, and students. First of all, the racial differences came from history back to 1950s. At that time, the enormous income differences of white and black families direct cause the chances to enter the higher-quality school and the opportunities to experiences and to gain social capital.
The government has been trying different methods in these years. In 2002, the President George signed a federal law, NCLB (No Child Left Behind), that aims to support every child with their education. The law requires and monitored several aspects to guarantee the quality of education and make sure every student is beneficial from it.
First of all, it is requiring every teacher to have a bachelors’ degree. The elementary teacher needs to pass state test in order to prove the ability to teach and the understandable in reading, language, writing, and math. For the middle school teacher, they need to pass the statewide test. The main goal for these strict requests means to improve the quality of educator in order to guarantee the quality of the education that students received. Secondly, the government set the standardized tests for every state. Students from grade 3 to grade 8 have to take the statewide tests. By the end of the 2007-2008 school year, each of the 3–5, 6–9, and 10-11 grades will be followed by a science exam. However, this action give rise to a lot of opposite voice. Some experts point out that by implementing the standardized tests, teachers will teach narrower topics but focus on what will be on tests (International Reading Association). Teacher might not pay attention to the deep understanding of the overall curriculum but only cares about the academic performance. Actually, this is not an improvement of education but a form of exam-oriented education. According to the law, the teacher will also have some punishments like reducing the salaries. By looking at the results from NAEP, a lot of teachers misunderstood the meaning of test scores after NCLB action. NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress is the only appointed organization that measures what U.S. students know and can do in various subjects across the nation, states, and in some urban districts. Educators tend to be predicted the test content that will appear on the tests to help the school get higher scores (2005). Other factors might influence the test scores even the students were hard-working and have high academic performance in regular school. He/she might suffer from family factors and failed the test once. Therefore, the NCLB tests not take these factors in to account. Thirdly, the NCLB action also asked the public school to have progress and meet the AYP two years, or the students can choose to transfer to another school, let the student receive free tutoring or after-school programs. AYP standards for Adequate Yearly Progress, which is a measurement designed by United States Federal Law how every public school and school district in the country is performing academically depend on the results on standardized tests. The academic performance is the almost the only way to determine if the school meet the requirements and might also affect the funding from the government or other punishments that contribute to the increased accountability if the school fail to do so. Lastly, the school also have to provide the specific reports that explain the academic performance of school, and also informs the situations of the teacher as “not highly qualified” if the school fail to meet the AYP. According to the a policy that announced by Pennsylvania, the salaries of the teacher will connect to the test scores by the students they taught. And the school will receive less funding in the following years. Many experts also have opposite views that if a poor district that originally have lower academic performance is going to have less funding and salaries for teacher, this will be a vicious circle and more and more child will be “left behind”.
In my perspective, this legislation failed to provide better education especially for low-income and minority students. First of all, the actual transfer rate is much less than the eligible transfer rate. According to the data that collected from 2002 to 2003 over 10 poor districts in America, some of the transfer granted rate are even 10 times than transfer requests rates (Table 1). This comparation proves the ineffectiveness of the transfer school option provided by NCLB legislation. There are several reasons behind this data. Firstly, there is no data that shows a school can approve all the requests that need to transfer. Secondly, parents tend to let the children stay in the neighborhood school than distinct schools (2003). Thirdly, the NCLB transfer failed to provide affordable transfer school fees especially for the low-income family’s students to high academic performance schools. Fourth, there is limited number of schools that students can choose to transfer in urban areas. Lastly, all the policies, requirements and the number of performers are tremendous pressure to the local government both financially and mentally.
The second solution that believes can close the achievement gap is dismantling tracking and providing the high-track curriculum to all the students (Kevin, 2005). Tracking curriculum is mixing all the students in classrooms instead of classifying students to various students depend on their grades. This tracking curriculum contains values, beliefs, and techniques that a student need. However, in the past, school and parents tend to believe that the curriculum will only benefit the higher-achiever because they can learn more and effective in the class under high-track curriculum (Harris, 2010). Besides, the way to implement the high-track curriculum is much simpler than low-track curriculum. There are many factors need to consider. Like the suggestions from the teacher, the academic performance, and the potential capacity a student has.
In the 1990s, there is a school district in Long Island had implemented the high-track curriculum to all the students. The results turned out very well: in 2007, 75% of students earned a New York State Regents diploma compared to the 58% in the past. Another example that shows the effectiveness of the high-track curriculum is about the math Regents exam and the diploma in this district. There is a math test that appeared the question related to the stumbling block. However, high-track students have already sufficient about this kind of question while low-track students just started to learn about algebra. After address the curriculum to standardized high-track curriculum to all students, the math teacher Delia Garrity made a new curriculum to all students and created after-school programs as study groups to help struggling students. Students can share their ideas about the questions or what they are good at in order to help each other. Surprisingly, compared to the 23% of Hispanic or African Americans students passed algebra-based Regents exam in 1995, increased to 75% in 1997. The achievement gap not only declined in Hispanic and African Americans, but also shows in White and Asian Americans from 54% to 98%.
Table 1: Participation in Transfer Program: Eligible Students, Transfer Requests, Transfers Granted in ten Districts, 2002-03. The actual transfer rate is much less than the granted requests.
Another example that provide strong evidence for the advantages of implementing the high-track curriculum to all students. For the special education students will have alternative assessments compared with other students. They will not take the Regents math test until 9th grade. These students will receive low-track classes with longer period time in school. However, this method did not really bring any positive changes to the low-track students will their academic performance and the passion of learning. Teachers and school tend to spend more time on the disciplines and regulations in the low-track classrooms. Therefore, the school started to change and implement new high-track curriculum to all the students. From 1996 to 2000 after implementing the new method, the rates and the achievements have dramatically decreased (Table 2).
The closing of achievement gap in the district after implementing the high-track curriculum instead of the heterogeneous classes. This new method not only helped the Hispanic and African Americans, but also improved the academic performance of Asian and White students.
However, some people might argue for the advantages of low-track curriculum, which divided all students to several classrooms based on their academic achievement. One of the most common recognized pros is this curriculum offers the classes that are “suitable” to the students, which allows each student to reach their potential abilities with their own pace. In the opposite, I disagree this argument for several reasons. First of all, the temporary academic scores do not represent the ability of the student. There are many factors that might influence the test scores. For example, rest will directly affect the students’ performance during the test. Secondly, appropriate competition and pressure can have positive influences. If all the students have the same learning abilities and academic performances, it is hard to have some high-score students as models. When someone has higher performance, it might stimulate students to study hard and learn from it. According to the research, pressure makes people focus. Pressure forces people to eliminate distractions and trying to reach the goal. When people are focusing on something, it dramatically improves the efficient and perseverance to finish it. Besides, when there is appropriate pressure, people tend to work harder and reach their full potential power (Deb, 2016). Furthermore, using low-track curriculum might also affect the mentality of students. They might have negative emotions like self-abasement or self-conceit if the diving of classes is beyond their expectations. Lastly, the teacher will have different teaching purposes and expectation with different classes. While high-track curriculum tends to be more engaging, reflective, and challenging, the low-track curriculum emphasizes on good behavior and menial skills (Education Trust, 2004). This low-track curriculum uses the word “achievement” instead of “ability”, which is not appropriate. The achievement is measurable through a specific time about what and how the students learning; whereas the ability is does not have a standard way to test it and make a conclusion. This method invisibly tag all the students by their temporary academic performace.
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Therefore, I think the second solution that suggests implementing the high-track curriculum to all the students is much more effective than the No Child Left Behind action. Even there are many more methods that have been tried by government and educators, the achievement gap is still existing and have profound negative effects to individual and the nation. It might take time to solve this problem, as it contains so many factors that lead to the achievement. In other aspects, I think the school and teacher have responsibilities to raise the consciousness of the outcome and the power of students and families. Once they understand the importance of the learning would be, they might pay more attention to the education of the children in order to improve the academic performance of the students. If the parents are too busy or are not eligible to afford afterschool tutoring, the parents can encourage and communicate more with the children about study. According to the research, encouragement is a salute learning. The evidence from neuroscience: the reptilian part of our brain, which sits in the center of our brain, when it’s threatened, it shuts down everything, and shut down the learning part. Punishment and examinations are seen as threats. Therefore, there are something that parents and the families can do to have some positive influences in closing the achievement gap.
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