Closing the Gaps

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The data are clear: When we as a nation focus on something, we make progress. This is evident in our students’ achievement after more than a decade of attention to improving elementary education. In 1996, nearly three of every four African-American fourth-graders could not perform at a basic level in mathematics. By 2007, that was down to 30 percent. This is a real testimony to the hard work of educators and students across the country.

But we cannot for a minute rest on this success. Far too many young people still enter high school unprepared. And the gaps separating the achievement of African-American and Latino 12th-graders from their white peers are bigger now than they were in the late 1980s. These gaps in reading and mathematics performance are coupled with glaring differences in graduation rates for different groups of young people. And with achievement results for Native students remaining nearly flat, the gaps separating Native students from their white peers have mostly widened, too.

To close these devastating gaps once and for all, we will need to summon the courage and the will to change a practice that continues to leave low-income students and students of color behind—the practice of providing those students who arrive at school less prepared with less of everything we know matters in school, too.

Thankfully, some schools and districts have confronted these inequities and are proving that all students—regardless of race, ethnicity, income, or background—can achieve at high levels when we provide them with the right opportunities. With our Dispelling the Myth Awards, The Education Trust recognizes schools around the country that demonstrate the power educators have to help their students. The schools we honor each year serve significant numbers of low-income students or students of color, and they have student achievement results that put them near the top of their states — not just in one subject or for one year but across subjects, grades, and years. These schools are doing the right thing for kids: providing a rich, coherent curriculum and making it interesting and engaging for their students. In the process, they are making themselves the kinds of places where teachers want to teach.

Yet however commendable their efforts, schools and districts alone cannot turn the tide on closing achievement gaps nationwide. In new analysis presented in Uneven at the Start, Ed Trust looks at states' recent track records in improving student achievement. And our State Academic Performance and Improvement Tool visually demonstrates how each state's current performance and improvement over approximately the past decade compare with other states and the national average. The tool uses data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the only assessment with comparable results for all 50 states.

The facts are clear, in every state, our education system is doing far worse for low-income students and students of color than for their white or more affluent peers. To change these patterns, state leaders need to develop targeted improvement strategies based in a careful examination of the data.

The Ed Trust’s Education Watch State Reports can help serve that purpose. These state-specific reports provide key data on educational achievement and attainment for all groups of students. And, where possible, they compare states’ performance on important measures. While even our top-performing states aren’t where they need to be, they show what’s possible, and can point to evidence of what works to raise achievement for all groups of students.

The Education Trust analyzes the data to understand the patterns of achievement for all groups of students. We expose gaps in opportunity that lead directly to gaps in achievement. And we work hard to identify and learn from those places that are leading the way in providing all young people with the education they need and deserve.