What are some causes of the Achievement Gap?

The causes for the achievement gap are complex…etc.  They fall into two main categories:
1)        Factors related to student’s socioeconomic status, cultural environment, and family
2)        Factors related to student’s schools

Sociocultural Causes
Cultural attitudes and racism also play a part in the achievement gap.
…etc., some minority students perceive that the majority culture sees them as less capable and
expects little of them.  These students may not try in school, since they believe they won’t
succeed anyway.

Some researchers believe minority students may maintain low levels of achievement purposely
to avoid “acting white” and gain the approval of their peers…

School-Related Causes
…etc., teachers often have low expectations of these students, leading them to have low
expectations for themselves.

Social-economical causes:
•        Low-parent income contributes to low educational resources at home
•        Broken family structure is influence in unstable environment…leads to concerns that are
lower on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs than the level, “Need to Know” which is a major
motivational state of being for a child to want to learn.

Cultural causes:
If the student is within a different cultural learning environment than his own, feelings of “will I
fit in?” and the need to be part of a group may supersede learning.  According to Maslow’s
Hierarchy of Needs, the need to belong and feel loved supersedes the Need to Know stage.

www.educationworld.com/a_issues/chat/chat119.shtml) Interview with Dr. Ruby K. Payne,
author of A Framework for Understanding Poverty

“Teachers often come from vastly different social and economic classes than their students,
which can lead to culture clashes in the classroom.”

“…etc., behavior of some low income students might seem wrong to teachers from middle-
income backgrounds, but made sense in the context of students’ lives.”

Dr. Payne believes that understanding the impact of poverty and low-income on children can
help you to help them learn.

“Misconceptions about low-income students and a middle-income frame of reference can
hamper the education of students in poverty.”

One common misconception, says Payne, is “that students from poverty are not intelligent and
that students engage in behaviors that make no sense.”

Payne says there are “hidden rules” within social classes.
“Hidden rules are unspoken cueing mechanisms individuals use to know whether a person does
or does not belong.”

Become aware of our own “unspoken cueing mechanisms.  The mainstream culture is guilty of
using these mechanisms, and the minority groups can sense it.  This contributes to the “school
environment” and how a student feels about going to school.  If a student feels a sense that he or
she doesn't’t belong, this will supersede his or her Need to Know.

School Environment
There are many factors in the school environment that contribute to the achievement of
minority students.
•        Ownership
•        Belongingness
•        Feelings of being singled out, or prejudiced against
•        Feelings that punishment for a circumstance is always worse for African Americans
•        Feelings that doing well means “acting white”
•        Use of students culture in the context of learning
(are cultural names used in both written or verbal examples?)
(are there representations of and from minority students in academic text, school art, and
library books?)

In some cases, there is a belief that the mainstream culture is the standard, and therefore, better.  
When there is no use of the minority culture’s environment, students will feel that it must be
unimportant to the teacher.

“…etc., teachers often have low expectations of these students, leading them to have low
expectations for themselves.”

The State Education and Environment Roundtable offer insight on closing the achievement gap.  
They report that the use of the environment is an integrating context for learning.
“…etc., using a school’s surroundings and community as a framework within, which students can
construct their own learning.”
“…etc., students learn more effectively within an environment-based context, than within a
traditional educational framework.”

The benefits they have observed are:
•        “Better performance on standardized measures of academic achievement in reading,
writing, math, science, and social studies;”
•        “Reduced discipline and classroom management problems;”
•        “Increased engagement and enthusiasm for learning; and,”
•        “Greater pride and ownership in accomplishments.”

Factors that influence the achievement gap are: “family involvement, cultural differences,
expectations, grouping arrangements, and English language acquisition level.”

“Most of their families have few resources to supplement the instruction they receive in school.”

“While lower-income children of color depend more on schools and teachers to provide quality
learning opportunities than their advantaged peers, in reality they attend schools with less
resources, less qualified teachers, and less demanding curricula…”

“...etc., they often have teachers who give them less academic attention and are unprepared to
address their diverse cultural needs.”

Parent Involvement
“Often, parents or guardians of minority children may not be invited to involvement activities
because of unconscious bias on the part of school staff, because staff, too are uncomfortable…”

Teacher Factors:
“African American student achievement may suffer because school staff misread or use
inappropriate teaching strategies that do not capitalize on students’ culture orientations or
learning styles.”

School Factors:
“Students do not shed their cultural skins at the school door.  Many schools have difficulty trying
to create a school culture that incorporates diverse cultural orientations.  For example, many
Black students are more socially interactive in the classroom than White students whose
behavior more closely fits the White, middle-class school norm for appropriate classroom

“Teachers may view students in special educations programs or in the lower-academic tract,
where students of color are overrepresented, as having less intellectual ability.”

“Teachers often expect more from middle-class students.”

“Teachers tend to reject students who they perceive as overly active and distractible” [sic].  

[document] developed by the Research Practitioner Council and approved by the Governing
Board of the Minority Student Achievement Network in June 2003

“Causes of achievement gaps are complex and include school, community, home and societal

“The current gaps in achievement are not due to racial differences in innate ability”

“Despite the gaps in average performance among racial groups, there are substantial numbers of
high achieving students of color.”

“Racism within schools continues to be a significant barrier to student achievement.”