Monday, November 26, 2012

What is an Achievement Gap?

A couple of weeks ago, a teacher named Camika Royal wrote an essay asking us to stop talking about achievement gaps. By achievement gaps, she meant the often wide differences between in test scores between kids who are white and kids who are not (except for kids who are Asian. That's a whole other blog post).

Royale suggests that labeling these gaps as such suggest that kids who are white have smarts that kids of color don't have. The phrase, according to Royale, normalizes white achievement and makes it the standard for all other racial groups. But should we hold kids to different standards based on race?

Here in Virginia, the state department of education recently came under fire for creating standardized test goals that are different for every race and ethnicity. The creators of the varied goals said they were trying to be honest about where kids are and not set up schools to fail by expecting them to overcome the deficiencies in learning.

I don't think that white kids are smarter than black kids. I do think that kids who come from homes with higher incomes tend to do better in terms of graduation, college attendance and completion, and health. I do think that kids who are white are more likely to come from homes with higher incomes than kids who are not. I don't think we're privileging whiteness. We're privileging an upper-middle class existence that is most readily available to white people (although many of them struggle, too).

Royale seems to argue these aren't deficiencies. They just are facts of society's inability to prepare kids from minority backgrounds for scholastic success. She starts to make some sense to me when she talks about calling these differences not in achievement (obligatory point out that what we're using to measure this achievement is a questionable measure at best and harmful at worst), but in opportunity. I think introducing the idea of opportunity gaps and what they do to people on the bottom of them is the main point of Royale's argument. It just takes her awhile to get there, and we have to wade through some semi-questionable ideas to get there. Once we're talking about opportunity gaps, however, I am on board.

It is fundamentally unfair to expect schools, teachers, and other educators to pick up the slack for other community resources. That sort of expectation also sets students up to fail. But that doesn't mean we should throw up our hands and go home. We should account for the fact that schools can't make up these gaps in opportunity now, and then create ways for them to do so going forward.

No comments: