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Gap Widens Among High-Achieving Students

Closing the achievement gap should be about more than raising the performance of struggling students, says a new report from the Education Trust that calls for more effort to help low-income and students of color succeed at the highest academic levels.

While fewer black, Hispanic, and low-income students are scoring "below basic" in reading and math national assessments, the report, Breaking the Glass Ceiling of Achievement for Low-Income Students and Students of Color, shows those same students aren't making similar progress at "advanced" levels and the problem is even more pronounced in high school.

The Washington-based research and advocacy organization reviewed recent trends on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in it analysis.

The percent of white and higher-income students scoring at the advanced level has increased significantly in recent years, but the gap is widening compared with students of color and from low-income families. In math, for example, in 2011, about one in 10 white 4th graders reached advanced in math, compared with one in 50 Hispanic students and and one in 100 black students in fourth grade.

This gap-widening trend at the advanced level also occurred in 4th and 8th grade reading, but only between lower- and higher-income students, not between students of color and white students, the report says.

In 2004, among students in 12th grade math, 62 percent of low-income students and 34 percent of higher-income students performed at the below basic level on NAEP. By 2009, those numbers had dropped to 55 percent and 29 percent, respectively. At the high end, the same progress was not met. About 3 percent of white and higher-income students reached advanced in 2005 and 2009, while so few students of color and low-income students reached that benchmark in math that estimates were rounded to zero, according to the report.

The report shows gaps in high-end achievement for disadvantaged students was greater in 12th grade than in 4th or 8th grades.

The Education Trust report highlights some schools that have closed the achievement gap among students groups at all levels by setting data-based goals, creating individualized student plans, and raising expectations for all students.

"If we are going to get these gaps behind us, once and for all, we have to bring our middle-achieving low-income students and students of color higher, and move our higher-end students higher still," writes Kati Haycock, the president of the Education Trust, in the report. "If full racial equality is our goal, getting more black, Latino, and American Indian students into the highest reaches of achievement—the top 25 percent or top 10 percent—is especially important. This is where many local and national leaders in government, business, and the nonprofit sector are drawn from. And having leaders who look like the country is crucial, especially to children looking toward their own futures."


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