Closing the Achievement Gap: Definition & Statistics

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will find out about achievement gaps that exist among American students and discuss some things that educators can do to close the gaps.

Definition and Performance Measures

What are achievement gaps? Achievement gaps are differences in educational success that exist between students as a result of poverty, English language proficiency, disability, race, or ethnicity. Educators measure gaps using a variety of data points, such as standardized test scores, graduation rates, and attendance rates. Let's examine some statistics that indicate achievement gap among American students and discuss ways that teachers can work towards closing those gaps.


For example, by looking at high school graduation rates from 2013, we can easily see disparities between the norm and the rates of some identified minority groups. The average graduation rate was 81.4%. However, only 73.3% of students living in poverty graduated. Although various races have begun to close the gap over the past few years, graduation rates for American Indian students is still only 69.7%. 70.7% of African American students graduate from high school, as well as 75.2% of Hispanic students. 70.7% of African American students graduate from high school, as well as 75.2% of Hispanic students. Lower still are the graduation rates for some other student populations.

Similar results are seen when looking at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores for both 4th and 8th grade students in math and reading. For example, 14% of students who did not qualify for free lunch failed to meet proficiency on the 8th grade math test, but 41% of the students who receive free lunches lacked proficiency on the same test. 69% of 8th grade ELL students did not meet math proficiency, nor did 65% of students with disabilities.

The good news is that progress is being made. For example, in 1990, 83% of African American students did not meet proficiency in fourth grade math. By 2013, the percentage of students that did not meet proficiency dropped to 34%. Graduation rates have also improved over the past several years. Between the 2010-11 school year and the 2012-13 school year, graduation rates raised nearly 5% for American Indian students. The graduation rate for both Black and Hispanic students have rise about four percentage points in just two years, from 2011 to 2013.

Meeting the Need of All Students

What can teachers do to meet the needs of students who have been traditionally under-served? It's important that teachers simultaneously meet the needs of all students while providing targeted instruction based on data to support struggling students. Setting individualized learning goals with students ensures that the learning experience is maximized for each child. While you as a teacher may not feel as though it is within your power to control systemic societal problems that have contributed to the achievement gap, look for opportunities within your classroom, grade-level, or school that can make a difference for your students.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account