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The Problem With the Achievement Gap

  One of the most prominent problems with our education system today is the achievement gap. For numerous reasons, students affected by the achievement gap usually start school already behind their classmates, and may struggle for the rest of their time in school trying to catch up to their peers. There are many factors that cause students to be affected by the achievement gap, which results in many complications in order to break the cycle and get out of this gap. “According to the National Governors’ Association, the achievement gap is ‘a matter of race and class. Across the U.S., a gap in academic achievement persists between minority and disadvantaged students and their white counterparts’” (Ladson-Billings). Minority groups and disadvantaged students often start kindergarten already behind simply due to lack of resources, especially not being able to read. The farther behind these students are when they are younger only make them more likely to fall more behind as they grow older, which increases the achievement gap instead of decreasing it.

     The achievement gap has created many problems in the United States education system because there is an increasing amount of students whose reading levels are up to four years younger than their age range. While reading is only one of the subjects affected by the achievement gap, not being at the same reading level as everyone else can not only affect a student’s schooling, but the rest of their lives as well. If these important life skills, like reading, writing, and arithmetic, are not learned effectively by a certain age the chances of the student staying behind or falling even more behind increases.

Due to the increasing gap over previous years, important changes need to be made to the current academic system in order to decrease and eventually completely eradicate the achievement gap. Once the current system is changed so that there are not children starting kindergarten already behind the rest of their classmates, there will be a steady decrease in the number of students that are affected so dramatically by this gap, which will produce an overall more educated society with more of an educated group of minority and disadvantaged students.

     While there are many ways to decrease the achievement gap, and more than one change is going to be needed to achieve this change, two of the most prominent factors are the students’ reading ability and how much help, support, and resources the students can get from their parents and teachers. “Poor children do not read because they have much more restricted access to books at home and in their communities (Neuman & Celano, 2012). However, in a recent study we demonstrated that simply providing children from low income families with self-selected books for summer reading eliminated summer reading loss and spurred reading gains comparable to those experienced by middle class children” (Allington and McGill-Franzen). Much of the achievement gap is created over the summer when minoritized or disadvantaged students do not have as much access to books or materials to further their education between school years. Providing books to children is a very good first step to encourage them to further their education, but if these students can not read in the first place, simply giving them the books will not solve the problem on its own. Supplying books to children so they can start learning to read before they enter kindergarten will begin them on this track that they will not be as far behind the rest of their classmates. “What we have learned from these several studies is that younger children from low-income families seem to benefit the most from summer book distribution programs. Student choice is also important— students are more likely to read books that they have selected” (Allington and McGill-Franzen).  For students just starting to learn how to read, even having just a few books accessible to them during the summer is important so that they do not lose the skills they acquired during the school year, which would just continue to make them fall behind.

     Along with supplying books and resources, students also need teachers who will understand their situations at home and how their home life affects their education. “Teachers must stop assuming that a whole class should learn the same material in the same way and reach the same benchmarks at the same time. Instead, they must foster mastery of key concepts more than particular facts. Individualization and adaptation must become the cornerstones of instruction” (Evans). When teachers start giving students a more individualized education, making sure that each student is getting the attention, help, and resources they each need to succeed, the achievement gap will start to diminish over time. Teachers need to be able to understand each student individually, know how much help each student needs in order to succeed, and learn their students’ learning styles, study habits, and behaviors.

While there are so many aspects of the achievement gap and so many different ways to go about solving the problem, two of the best places to start are getting books and resources to children so that they can learn to read before entering kindergarten, and having teachers who will do everything to help each individual student achieve the best work that they can in school to set them up for great success in their jobs and their lives overall.

Allington , Richard L, and Anne McGill-Franzen.Eliminating Summer Reading Setback: How We Can Close the Rich/Poor Reading Achievement Gap. Apr. 2013,

Evans, R. (2005). Reframing the Achievement Gap. The Phi Delta Kappan, 582-589 

Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). From the achievement Gap to the Education Debt: Understanding Achievement in U.S. schools. Educational Researcher, 35(7), 3-12

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