Achievement gaps have been discussed in education for decades. Performance differences across different groups of students are important indicators of how education services are being received by students. However, a new report, Mind (the other) Gap!, from the Indiana University Center for Evaluation and Education Policy takes an important new angle on this old problem. Rather than address potential differences in average performance or in proportions of groups meeting minimum proficiency standards, the authors report “excellence gaps” of high performing students. Focusing on performance on state assessments, Advanced Placement exams, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the report reveals performance gaps among top performing students from different economic, racial, and linguistic backgrounds as well as performance differences between males and females. Gaps such as these help shed light on who is receiving (or should be receiving) gifted education services.
The results reported in the study are too numerous to even summarize here, because so many different comparisons were made across so many groups, grade levels, and tests. Here is a brief sample of some of the relevant results.
- Among 8th grade students not eligible for free/reduced meals, 10% scored at “Advanced” levels while only 1.7% of those eligible scored at the “Advanced” level. A similar gap was found between English Language Learning (ELL) students and non-ELL students.
- There were also consistent (and potentially growing) excellence gaps across students from different racial/ethnic backgrounds: 9.4% of White students scored at the “Advanced” level in 8th grade math compared to 1.8% and .9% of Hispanic and Black students respectively.
- There were also consistent gaps between the performance of males and females. However, the direction of these gaps depended on the subject of the test. Females were consistently more likely to score highly on reading tests whereas males were consistently more likely to score highly on math tests.
- Excellence gaps were also reported on state level assessments. For example, in 2008 in Texas, there was a 3% gap between males and females earning the top score of 5 on an AP test (males: 11.34%; females 8.34%). On the same measure, the gap between White students and Black students was substantially larger at 8% (White: 10.29%; Black: 2.24%). The impact of this gap is exacerbated by the gap in the number of tests taken by each group (with White students being far more likely to take an AP test).
Even when excellence gaps were found to be shrinking, it was sometimes due to performance going down, not up (i.e., fewer students scoring at the highest levels). Even where gaps are shrinking, the rate at which they are shrinking would require several decades to eliminate the excellence gaps.
In their conclusion, the authors note a clear disconnect between a general desire to remain competitive on the global stage and current education policies concerning high achieving students. They advocate for promoting both universal minimum competency and excellence through local, state, and federal education policy. The report also states that the federal government has largely ignored excellence gaps while attention to the needs of gifted students has been highly inconsistent across states. It goes on to conclude that the performance of advanced students should be included in discussions of common standards. Although these arguments are largely aimed at policy makers, they can still be useful to families seeking to improve (or create) gifted education services in their schools. Adding these findings to your child’s story can augment the impact of your argument as you advocate for your child.
Mind (the other) gap! The growing excellence gap in K-12 education by Jonathan Plucker, Nathan Burroughs, and Ruiting Song from the Indiana University Center for Evaluation and Education Policy. To read the full report visit: http://ceep.indiana.edu.
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