Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 14/14.9.1

Testing Achievement Gap: What Can We Do?
By Deanna Lavery
Learning Targets:

• Readers should be able to identify different ways that tests can be biased.
• Readers should be able to identify different ways that low-achieving students can be supported that may, in turn, support their test scores.


In a high-stress atmosphere of merit-based pay for teachers and a push for testing achievement, researchers are concentrating their efforts in to strategies and research that can help improve scores. Additionally, because Asian youth are a racial and ethnic minority that is outperforming other groups, many researchers are exploring aspects of their culture that may aid achievement. Unfortunately, amidst race for better scores, students are left along the wayside. New research on the topic suggests that achievement is a complicated issue that must be matched with a comprehensive approach.

Testing Bias
The Onion makes fun of the controversial topic of testing bias by posting imaginary testimonials:

Gus Browning,

"I see no reason why any high-school senior shouldn't be able to answer questions about basic yachting terminology."(The Onion, 1997)

There are conflicting views when it comes to the topic of testing bias. On one hand, Fredreka Schouten of USA Today suggests, if we take away all bias then "Florida 10-year-olds shouldn't be expected to compose essays about blizzards…" (Schouten, 2004). She goes on to list other "testing taboos" (Schouten, 2004) that range from reasonable to ridiculous. On the other hand, John Tanner, former Delaware testing director, states, "Testing is a stressful enough experience for kids. We want to make sure there is nothing that would cause the child to stumble" (Schouten, 2004). These two views represent the two main arguments to be found. In order to overcome the testing bias obstacle, whether one sees it as real or perceived, it is important to find a middle ground. "'The United States is obviously a country of many, many cultures, "says Ravitch, a New York University professor and author of The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn. "If we accommodate everyone's taboos, then we don't have the kind of zone where we can say 'This is reality, and it's OK to learn about it.'" (Schouten, 2004) Thus, a proper balance must be met. Yet, does the achievement gap problem stop with the test bias? Most research suggests that the achievement gap is a more complicated issue.

Achievement Gap

Michigan Association of School Boards Journal states that "Mistakenly, many people think the [achievement] gap as measured by standardized tests is the result of what happens in school. But assessments of young children reveal a sizable achievement gap before children start school…" (MASB, 2001) Thus, it comes as no surprise that African-American and Hispanic children lag behind White and Asian groups in both test scores and socio-economic status (MASB, 2001). No doubt, the reasons behind low test scores are a "complex combination of school, community, and home factors" (MASB, 2001).

What can be done?

If test bias and environment are both factors in the achievement gap, what can be done? A glimpse in to what has been shown to narrow the gap in the past may be of assistance. In the 1970's and 1980's government assistance programs like Head Start and Title I significantly closed the testing gap (MASB, 2001). Studies show that programs with emphasis on early education continue to narrow the gap (Fight Crime, 2006). It must not go without saying that African American and Hispanic groups have made significant gains since the instatement of these programs (MASB, 2001).

It takes the whole village to raise a child.

-African Proverb (Think Exist, 2006)

Case Study: Joseph

Educator Peggy Groover instills a love for reading and writing at the same time as improving test scores in Joseph and the Achievement Gap. Grover states, "Joseph struggled in my 7th grade literature class. He didn't like to read and was reluctant to write. He was not alone. Like many of the African American boys in my literature classes, Joseph had low or failing grades." (Groover, 2005) Groover wanted to do something about this problem so she started by putting a 1996 study by Anne Simpson to the test (Groover, 2005). Simpson's test stated that "class reading selections frequently do not reflect African American preferences, nor do they feature characters African Americans relate to" (Groover, 2005). Thus, Groover introduced two novels with African American characters in addition to the two novels with all-white characters that were already a part of the curriculum. Groover states, "African American boys averaged scores between 65 and 71 on the novels with white characters only" (Groover, 2005). However, the scores went up "between 87 and 93" for the novels with African American characters (Groover, 2005). In order for students to do well on reading and writing they must enjoy and relate to books to begin with. With an increase in a joy for reading, students are more likely to improve in comprehension, vocabulary, mechanical, and grammatical skills.


In order to take on the subject of testing bias and achievement gaps, we cannot just look at performing more testing. A multi-faceted approach to improving test scores must be utilized if we wish to make any gains in this field. We may longer rely on outdated teaching methods for a thriving classroom.


1. What governmental programs helped narrow the achievement gap in the 1970's and 1980's?

A. Head Start.
B. No Child Left Behind.
C. Title I
D. Both A and C.

2. Why does the achievement gap exist?

A. Hispanic and African American students have many opportunities but usually choose not to take them.
B. There are many reasons including test bias and environmental dynamics.
C. White students are usually louder than the Hispanic and African American students and don't give them a chance to answer in class.
D. None of the above.

3. You are the teacher of a third grade classroom with majority Hispanic students. You want to make your curriculum inclusive and interesting while working on skills for the standardized testing. What are some ideas?

A. Include books with stories about Hispanic children.
B. Research the countries and cultures that the children represent.
C. Regularly talk with and include the parents of the children that seem to have difficulty in the class.
D. All of the above.

4. Using what you understand about achievement gaps, what are some situations that might deter good test scores?

A. A less than ideal sleeping situation because the child's father lost his job again and they are all sleeping in one room. The child falls asleep at his desk several times during the test.
B. The child's alcoholic father tells him he will never amount to anything and does not try very hard on the test.
C. The child is worried about where his family is going to sleep tonight and cannot concentrate during the test.
D. All of the above.

Key: 1. D, 2. B, 3. D, 4. D

Works Cited

Groover, Peggy. (2005). Joseph and the achievement gap. Retrieved March 22, 2009 from Classroom Leadership.

Head Start reduces crime and improves achievement. (2006). Retrieved March 22, 2009 from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.

Michigan Association of School Boards. (2001). It takes more than testing…closing the achievement gap. Retrieved March 22, 2009 from Michigan Association of School Boards Journal

Schouten, Fredreka. (2004). Standardized tests take on shades of gray. Retrieved March 22, 2009, from USA Today
Web site:

The standardized testing bias. (1997). Retrieved March 22, 2009, from The Onion.
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