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Nation’s Worst Academic Achievement Gaps Revealed in New Data

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May 11, 2016 05:23 pm

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Glaring academic achievement gaps in communities across the nation are revealed in a new data set put forth by the Stanford Graduate School of Education. The data set was created from more than 200 million test scores of third to eighth grade students, from 2009-13, and includes scores from every public school district in the country, along with socioeconomic information, school district characteristics, and racial and economic segregation. The analysis is the first to explore racial achievement gaps across the country at such a fine geographic scale, allowing comparison to be drawn between and within states.

The findings show that nearly every school district with large numbers of students from low-income families has an average academic performance significantly below the national grade-level average. The research also shows that in almost all school districts where students are predominantly students of color, there are large achievement gaps between white and African American students and white and Latino students.

A Stanford article on the findings identifies other key patterns in educational inequities, including that:

  • One sixth of all students attend public school in school districts where average test scores are more than a grade level below the national average; one sixth are in districts where test scores are more than a grade level above the national average.
  • The most and least socioeconomically advantaged districts have average performance levels more than four grade levels apart.
  • Average test scores of black students are, on average, roughly two grade levels lower than those of white students in the same district; the Hispanic-white difference is roughly one- and-a-half grade levels.
  • Achievement gaps are larger in districts where black and Hispanic students attend higher poverty schools than their white peers; where parents on average have high levels of educational attainment; and where large racial/ethnic gaps exist in parents’ educational attainment.

The Atlantic dives into the finding that wealthier school districts have the worst inequities, despite the fact that they have more resources to serve students. The gaps in these districts are both socioeconomic and racial: emerging between students from low-income families and their peers, and between white students and students of color. “The researchers suggest that this is largely because black and Latino students are more likely to come from poor families, and to attend high-poverty schools,” the article notes. “But even when students share similar socioeconomic backgrounds and attend similar schools, white students fare better.”

One potential factor given that may contribute to this disparity is that students from wealthier families are more likely to have access to enriching educational experiences outside of the classroom, The Atlantic notes. Sonja Brookins Santelises, vice president of K-12 policy and practice at Education Trust, tells The Atlantic that it’s critical for schools with increasingly diverse student populations to offer students a wide range of learning opportunities, including cultural excursions outside of the classroom, to ensure students are learning lessons they might not get at home. Without these real-world learning opportunities, “what we end up doing,” she explains, “is giving kids who are living in poverty the most impoverished learning experiences.”

In an Education Week video clip, Sean Reardon, a Stanford education professor and author of the study, explains the data how it can help to answer the question “Can we fix educational equity by building better school systems alone?” Watch the clip below:

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