Achievement Gap


  • More than 15 years after the passage of the Massachusetts Education Reform Act, gaps in achievement between affluent white and low-income minority students, English language learners and students with disabilities continue in many ways, some more visible than others.
  • The high-stakes MCAS has failed to deliver on its promise to uncover and close gaps, which continue to be reported in the media and bemoaned by politicians.
  • The so-called Nation’s Report Card, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), confirms that Massachusetts’ achievement gaps in math and reading persist and are among the nation’s worst, despite our state being “Number 1 on NAEP” based on average scores.
  • Less prominent but equally troubling are gaps in suspension and expulsion rates and the related gaps in high school completion rates. In 2008, whites graduated at a rate 18% higher than blacks and 28% higher than Hispanic students.
  • An insidious aspect of the achievement gap is the fact that score gaps between whites and minorities can appear to narrow as a result of increased attrition and higher dropout rates among minority students. For example, some charter schools lauded for “closing achievement gaps” have attrition rates so high that they lose most of their student enrollment between freshman and senior year.
  • A narrow focus on MCAS scores as the primary measure of achievement gaps is misleading and pressures teachers to narrow instruction to what is tested. Meanwhile, students’ skills and strengths that are not measured by the MCAS go unrecognized. This exacerbates real gaps in opportunity to learn a rich and varied curriculum, as well as gaps in school persistence and completion, limiting students’ opportunities for success.


  • If Massachusetts is going to succeed in narrowing or closing gaps in opportunity to learn, achievement, and access to career and life success, we must take a much broader view of the problems that contribute to achievement gaps and then devote sufficient resources to address them.


  • Part of the solution will include looking at multiple indicators of the factors that contribute to student well being and achievement, so we know more specifically what we must address to close gaps. More than just MCAS scores, we must look at opportunity to learn, access to a rich and varied, engaging school curriculum, including access to the arts and physical education. We must have better ways to measure student success in these areas and allow strengths in one area to offset weaknesses in another. We must look at suspension and expulsion rates, retention rates, graduation rates and acceptance and persistence in college. We must look at school climate reports and progress or lack of progress in school integration.

What Can You Do?

  • Join Citizens for Public Schools.
  • Contact your legislator and urge them to support H 3660, which would move Massachusetts toward a more comprehensive and balanced assessment and accountability system, a necessary piece of the puzzle to address ongoing inequities and achievement gaps.
  • Write letters to the editor sharing your perspective on how to improve public education and close achievement gaps by providing equity and removing barriers to achievement and success.
  • Talk to your friends and neighbors about the need to improve public education and equal opportunity for all with adequate and equitable school resources, better assessment and accountability. Urge them to join CPS.

Worth Reading