Researching Public Law and Public Policy in the Public Interest

The Gap in Conceptualizing Achievement in America’s Public Schools: An Analysis of the Achievement Gap


The achievement gap is often defined as the difference in academic achievement of minority and/or low-income students and their White and/or more affluent peers. Its status is evaluated through state standardized assessments, mandated under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), as well as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

The achievement gap has been at the forefront of educational debates, as well as utilized to justify school reform since the late 1990s. Various educational groups (e.g. The Education Trust), models (e.g. no-excuse charter schools), as well as practices (e.g. merit pay) have taken root and developed in the last two decades, vowing to close the achievement gap. In the name of the achievement gap, the educational landscape has transformed considerably (Dahlin & Cronin, 2010).

Since the achievement gap has been utilized to justify a plethora of reforms, it is critical to re-analyze our understanding of the phenomenon, as well as our understanding of educational equity in a broader sense. As such, this paper studies the way that equity has been conceptualized within the education system, including how the achievement gap has been defined, measured, and addressed by practitioners and researchers, ultimately examining strengths and limitations, with implications for more effective ways of addressing the issue.

In order to meet this goal, this paper is divided into five sections: Introduction, Understanding Past and Current Conceptualizations and Reforms, Examining Strengths and Limitations, Exploring Alternatives, and Conclusion.

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