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Identifying Achievement Gaps in Your School, District, and Community

Discussion Guide 1

This is the first in a series of short guides designed for NEA members to use in leading discussions about achievement gaps in their schools and communities. This guide includes a series of questions that will help identify the specific achievement gaps that exist locally, a first step in closing the gaps.

Achievement Gaps

The most discussed gap – and the one the term "the achievement gap" usually references – is between the test scores of minority and/or low-income students and the test scores of their White and Asian peers. But there are many gaps in test scores. Some groups may trail at particular points (e.g., males in the early years; females in secondary math and science). Differences between the scores of students with different backgrounds (e.g., ethnic, racial, gender, disability, and income) are evident on large-scale standardized tests. Test score gaps often lead to longer term gaps, including high school and college completion and the kinds of jobs students secure as adults.

Student Groups Experiencing Achievement Gaps

  • Racial and ethnic minorities
  • English language learners
  • Students with disabilities
  • Boys/girls

Indicators of Achievement Gaps

  • Performance on tests (e.g., statewide tests, Scholastic Aptitude Test [SAT])
  • Access to key opportunities (e.g., advanced mathematics, physics, higher education)
  • Attainments (e.g., high school diploma, college degree, employment)

Before turning to the discussion questions that will help identify the gaps that exist locally, take a moment to review some indicators of gaps in performance on tests, students' access to key opportunities, and important attainments. Some, or all of these, indicators may exist locally.


  • Scores for White, Asian, and Pacific Islander students were higher, on average, than for Black, Hispanic, and American Indian students at grades 4 and 8 on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
  • Hispanic students scored higher, on average, than Black students on the 2003 NAEP.
  • 17-year-old Black and Latino students, on average, read and complete math at the 13-year-old level on NAEP.


  • Participation in Advanced Placement courses has increased for all students, participation rates per 1,000 12th graders were 85 for Hispanics, 37 for Blacks, and 132 for Whites (1997 data).
  • Only 20 percent of eighth graders in the U.S. take algebra.


  • The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports the following high school completion rates:
    • 73 percent of Hispanics will complete high school or the GED
    • 89 percent of Blacks will complete high school or the GED
    • 93 percent of Whites will complete high school or the GED
  • There are notable gaps in who earns a bachelor's degree:
    • 33 percent of Whites; 18 percent of Blacks; and 11 percent of Latinos
  • The NCES also reports that in 2000-01:
    • 79 percent of adults over the age of 25 with a bachelor's degree had jobs.
    • 64 percent of individuals who completed high school had jobs.
    • Individuals who did not complete high school had a 34 percent employment rate.

Discussion Questions

  1. Think for a moment about the student groups mentioned in the examples above. Which students in your school, school district, and community are experiencing achievement gaps?

  2. What specific gaps are students experiencing? Gaps in performance on tests? Gaps in access to key opportunities? Attainment gaps? ?

  3. Do any gaps stand out as most important to address?

  4. Finally, what kind of picture is emerging? Many gaps? A few gaps? Are there any patterns of who is experiencing achievement gaps? Same groups? Different groups?

Related Content

» Identifying Factors that Contribute to Achievement Gaps - Discussion Guide 2.

» Identifying Stakeholders' Responsibilities for Closing Achievement Gaps: District and School Based Strategies - Discussion Guide 3.

» Identifying Stakeholders' Responsibilities for Closing the Achievement Gaps: Stakeholder Actions - Discussion Guide 4.