Taking a Closer Look
September 2007
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Closing the Achievement Gap

No Child Left Behind challenges us to close the achievement gap by assuring that all America's children can do grade-level schoolwork by the year 2014. The "achievement gap" is the difference in performance between groups of students, especially groups defined by race/ethnicity and family income.

"The 'achievement gap' is finally beginning to close! Some of the fastest gains are being made by those once left behind."
—Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings

No Child Left Behind is helping the country learn about what works in our schools. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, from 1999 to 2004, U.S. 9-year-olds made more progress in reading than in the previous 28 years combined, and math scores have reached record highs across the board. Test scores are at all-time highs for African-American and Hispanic students. Under No Child Left Behind, students in grades 3–8 are tested each year with one additional test in high school to confirm how students are doing. Progress has been made in many school districts, but more needs to be done to continue improving our educational system. The requirements of No Child Left Behind will help schools close the achievement gap and prepare all students for success. Bringing about comprehensive change in our educational system is difficult; here are some examples of schools that have made great strides in closing the achievement gap.

Lincoln Elementary School

Lincoln Elementary School in Mount Vernon, N.Y., has increasingly attracted both local and national attention for its rigorous, yet innovative, approach to elementary education. The largest elementary school in the Mount Vernon City School District, with nearly 800 children, Lincoln has reached capacity due largely to the out-of-boundary enrollment of students by parents who have heard of its remarkable reputation. Lincoln is seated in a racially and economically diverse suburb of New York City and faces challenges similar to its city counterparts. Fifty percent of the students are African-American with 25 percent Hispanic, 23 percent white and 2 percent Asian. Of those attending, 54 percent are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch. When fourth-graders were assessed in 2006 using the state exam, 100 percent were proficient in reading and 99 percent in math. Since 2002, nearly every fourth-grader at Lincoln has met or exceeded state standards in reading and math.

Lincoln's educational accomplishments are attributed to:

  • Parents hearing of its remarkable success and enrolling their children;

  • Community involvement through generous donations from science institutes, other organizations and private donors;

  • Interdisciplinary classes where different subjects are taught together—
    for example, math using art;

  • Collaboration among faculty members across disciplines and grade levels to prepare lesson plans; and

  • Strong instructional leadership, which brings out the best in the faculty and school personnel.

Note: This information is reliable as of May 2007. [The Achiever, U.S. Department of Education, Volume 6, No. 5, Washington D.C., 2007.]

Peabody eMints Academy

Peabody eMints Academy, a predominantly African-American school in St. Louis, Mo., struggled for more than five years to succeed. In 2001, only 7 percent of third-graders could read, and not one fourth-grader passed the state's math exam. According to 2005 data, 87 percent of the students exceed state standards in both subjects and nearly 96 percent in science.

Peabody eMints Academy turned its performance around by:

  • Defining expectations for students and teachers;

  • Providing greater professional development for teachers;

  • Requiring every child in grades 2–7 to attend an after-school program in reading, math and science, Monday through Thursday;

  • Having students take regular online tests to gauge their progress;

  • Allowing teachers to customize instruction according to the results of these tests; and

  • Working with the local business community, which provided volunteer tutors, helped build improvement projects and provided funding for the school's eMints* program.

*eMints stands for "enhancing Missouri's Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies," a state initiative that supports online testing and customized instruction.

Note: This information is reliable as of September 2006. [The Achiever, U.S. Department of Education, Volume 5, No. 7, Washington D.C., 2006.]

Norview High School

Norview High School, located in Norfolk, Va., is a high poverty, urban high school of over 1,800 students. In 1998, when Norview's students first took Virginia's standardized exams, about 70 percent passed the reading exam and only 60 percent passed the one in writing. Results were worse for other subjects: roughly 30 percent passed algebra and geometry. Moreover, on every subject test, African-American students' scores were lower than those of their white peers.

In 2005–06, the difference between African-American and white students' scores in reading was only 1 percent, with 95 percent of white students and 94 percent of African-American students passing the reading exam. On the writing test, 95 percent of white students passed, and 91 percent of African-American students passed. In math, 90 percent of all students passed, with 89 percent of those identified as disadvantaged passing, and 78 percent of students with disabilities passing.

What has Norview done to make these advances in closing the achievement gap?

  • The school developed an academic focus and became the "Leadership Center for Sciences and Engineering;"

  • Teachers came together to improve academic achievement;

  • Test data were reviewed regularly and analyzed;

  • More effective teaching strategies were created;

  • Education was customized to each student;

  • Specialized academic programs were introduced, such as the Dodson Scholars Program;*

  • During the 2005–06 school year, Norview introduced dual enrollment courses so that students could begin earning college credit while still in high school;

  • Students were offered after-school remediation sessions, as well as

  • "learning portals" during the school day for additional help in academic areas; and

  • The school's primary objective has been "Continuous Growth of Student Achievement for All."

*Anna Dodson of Norfolk Public Schools received a $10,000 Richard R. Green Award to present to a deserving high school senior of her choice from the Norfolk school system or from her alma mater, Norview High School. Dodson chose to give the $10,000 to four students over four years, giving each a $2,500 scholarship.

Note: This information is reliable as of August 2007. [Source: Virginia Department of Education, 2005–06 and 2005–06 Norview High School Performance Report. See also Reading Next: A Vision for Action and Research in Middle and High School Literacy, Alliance for Excellent Education, Washington D.C., 2004.]

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