Achievement Gap in K-12
The problem of the achievement gap between African American students and their White counterpart is a matter of heated discussion among scholars, policymakers, and educators. African American students are also more likely to drop out of school than any other group of students (Bowman et al., 2018). Quantitative studies also confirmed that there were significant differences in test results of students of different cultural identities on all educational levels.
For instance, the results of a study by Wang et al. (2020) revealed that African Americans had lower performance in both subjects in comparison with Caucasian students. The achievement gap is dangerous not only for African Americans but also for the well-being of the entire nation, as it spreads inequality.
Reasons for Achievement Gap
Numerous studies aimed at assessing the reasons for the gap in the academic achievements of students. A recent article by Bowman et al. (2018) addressed the problem systematically by assessing several factors simultaneously. The results of the research revealed that developmental differences, poverty, racism, curriculum, cultural differences, and insufficient teacher training lead to the appearance of the achievement gap (Bowman et al., 2018).
The researchers suggest that all stakeholders need to change their perception of education. Thus, the reasons for the achievement gap are diverse and need to be addressed systematically.
One of the central suggestions made by Bowman et al. (2018) is that racism is one of the central factors contributing to the achievement gap. The researchers claim that generations of illegal and illegal deprivation of human rights have not gone unnoticed in the relationships between White and African American students (Bowman, 2018). Black students living in poverty are forced to deal with toxic stress, which includes violence, neglect, inconsistent care, and unloving adults (Bowman et al., 2018). Thus, socio-economic factors add to the achievement gap.
The link between discipline and academic achievement is a widely-discussed topic. Pearman et al. (2019) conducted large-scale quantitative research using nationwide data to assess correlations between the achievement gap and achievement gap. On the one hand, the study revealed that there was a significant correlation between Hispanic-White discipline gaps and Hispanic-White achievement gaps (Pearman et al., 2019). On the other hand, larger Black-White discipline gaps were found to have larger Black-White achievement gaps (Pearman et al., 2019). However, the causal relationships were not determined.
While it is generally believed that psychological factors may affect the achievement of students, recent studies have challenged this idea. In particular, Dixson et al. (2017) conducted a quantitative study that inspected the influence of several psychological factors on the achievement of African American students.
The results of the study demonstrated that psychological constructs, including grit, growth mindset, ethnic identity, and other group orientations had no significant effect on the academic achievement of high-performing African American high school students after controlling for age, sex, and socio-economic status (Dixson et al., 2017).
Inadequate curriculum leads to at least two factors that contribute to the achievement gap between Black and White students in K-12. On the one hand, African American students cannot relate to the stories told in the history classes and writing studied during literature lessons (Dahir, 2019). This leads to a loss of interest in studies, which eventually leads to decreased academic performance (Dahir, 2019).
On the other hand, African American students start to picture their cultural identity as a vulnerability or misfortune (Wiggan & Watson-Vandiver, 2019). Even in the predominantly Black schools, teachers fail to take the opportunity to narrate the history of the US from the perspective of the lived experiences of African Americans. Thus, teachers and students have low self-efficacy, which harms academic achievement of students.
Overview of Strategies for Addressing the Achievement Gap
Numerous strategies were developed to address the problem of the achievement gap among students. For instance, Bowman et al. (2018) provide a list of recommendations, including training teachers in cultural literacy, working in partnerships with families, setting high expectations while acknowledging cultural differences, and planning for the prevention of difficult behavior.
Hill (2020) explored the opinions of family members of minority students and concluded that staff should genuinely care for all students, utilize diverse instructional methods to meet the individual needs of students, and create healthy, inclusive environments for the integration of cultural diversity. Goddard et al. (2017) concluded that the promotion of collective efficacy among teachers could help to close the achievement gap. The importance of cultural diversity was also mentioned as a critical success factor by Wang et al. (2019).
Dahir (2019) offered a strategic approach to the problem by promoting the pragmatic cultural model, which allows African Americans to develop their identities while attaining the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in mainstream society. In summary, there are multiple approaches to the problem of the achievement gap discussed among scholars, educators, and policymakers.
Bowman, B. T., Comer, J. P., & Johns, D. J. (2018). Addressing the African American achievement gap: Three leading educators issue a call to action. YC Young Children, 73(2), 14-23.
Dahir, M. (2019). Between cultural literacy and cultural relevance: A culturally pragmatic approach to reducing the black-white achievement gap. Handbook of Theory and Research in Cultural Studies and Education, 1-19.
Dixson, D. D., Roberson, C. C., & Worrell, F. C. (2017). Psychosocial keys to African American achievement? Examining the relationship between achievement and psychosocial variables in high achieving African Americans. Journal of Advanced Academics, 28(2), 120-140. Web.
Goddard, R. D., Skrla, L., & Salloum, S. J. (2017). The role of collective efficacy in closing student achievement gaps: A mixed methods study of school leadership for excellence and equity. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR), 22(4), 220-236.
Johnson, A. M. (2018). Scholastic liberation: Schools’ impact on African American academic achievement. Language Arts Journal of Michigan, 34(1), 8.
King, L. J. (2017). The status of black history in US schools and society. Social Education, 81(1), 14-18.
Pearman, F. A., Curran, F. C., Fisher, B., & Gardella, J. (2019). Are achievement gaps related to discipline gaps? Evidence from national data. Aera Open, 5(4), 1-18.
Wang, C., Fan, X., & Pugalee, D. (2020). Impacts of school racial composition on the mathematics and reading achievement gap in post unitary Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools. Education and Urban Society, 52(7), 1112-1132.
Wiggan, G., & Watson-Vandiver, M. J. (2019). Pedagogy of empowerment: Student perspectives on critical multicultural education at a high-performing African American school. Race Ethnicity and Education, 22(6), 767-787. Web.