The achievement gap, a term used to describe gaps in achievement between students of different races and genders in schools, has been a focus of American politics since the 1960s. At the time, it was becoming apparent that some races and genders score better than others on standardized tests.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) releases a series of progress tests throughout the year to compare the test results between whites, blacks, Latinos, and Asians/Pacific Islanders. It also compares male and female students. The scores, collected regularly since the 1970s, paint a picture of steady student growth in national achievement.
The 2013 National End of School Test found that the gender achievement gap is decreasing in math and reading test scores. In the 1970s, when the tests were first administered, boys scored higher than girls in math scores, while girls outperformed boys in reading scores. The gap in math scores has been erased for girls, while the average gap in reading scores by grade has decreased by 5 points.
Huge changes in race achievement gaps have occurred as well: 9-year-old Hispanic students scored an average of 25 points higher in reading scores, and 32 points higher in math scores, than Hispanics did in the 1970s. Black 9-year-old students scored an average of 36 points higher than their counterparts in the 1970s in reading and math.
Minnesota has one of the highest achievements gaps in the nation: in 2012, 61 percent of white students met college readiness standards compared to only 16 percent of black students. Governor Mark Dayton has stressed the importance of closing the achievement gap. While in office, Gov. Dayton and the Department of Education have put significant investments into early education. They introduced the “Read Well by Third Grade” law, which includes a requirement for every district to create a literacy plan. Gov. Dayton and the DFL also received a waiver from “No Child Left Behind,” in order to create more rigorous reading and math standards.
According to the latest NAEP results, the work by our lawmakers seems to be paying off: math scores amongst Minnesota fourth-grade students ranked fifth in the country at the end of the 2013 school year, and reading scores showed significant achievement gap closures. Additionally, fourth- and eighth-grade students reported the best scores in math and reading since NAEP scores began collecting scores in Minnesota.
Governor Mark Dayton congratulated Minnesota students, and seemed optimistic about the states ability to continue to improve the scores.
“These results are very encouraging, especially among our state’s youngest children. I congratulate Minnesota students, educators, and parents for their hard work. Today’s report shows important progress toward narrowing achievement gaps between students of color and white students. The additional investments in early learning scholarships and all-day kindergarten, which were approved by the Legislature this year, will help build on this progress.”
Our progressive leaders have made great strides in the last few years, but more work remains. Minnesota, though significantly improving, has one of the worst race achievement gaps in the nation.
But big changes are to come.
• Making sure all third-graders are reading at grade level
• Motivating adolescents to think about career options by middle school/junior high
• Keep motivating high school students by talking to them about their career hopes and career opportunities
• Offer ever-more college credits in high school
Another victory for Minnesota schools is the recent withdrawal of Studentsfirst a conservative education advocacy group. The organization, started by Michelle Rhee, has attempted to implement policies in schools that are supported by corporate education interests, but often opposed by parents and teachers. The group supported even more standardized testing and focused their efforts on blaming teachers for failures in the overall education system.
We won’t be missing them next fall.
It looks like a good year is to come for students in Minnesota.