How the Common Core and National Standards Further the “Achievement Gap” (by Char Ashley)

Defining “Achievement Gap” and Other Educational Disparities Achievement Gap refers to the different disparities among academic performance between groups of students. International Achievement Gap refers to the different disparities among academic performance between groups of students in other industrial nations. … Continue reading

Closing the Achievement Gap

Throughout the years, I have heard the term “Achievement Gap” throughout political debates, newspaper articles and complaints of the general population. According to The National Assessment of Educational Progress, “achievement gaps occur when one group of students outperforms another group and the difference in average scores for the two groups is statistically significant (that is, larger than the margin of error).” For full research on achievement gaps, consult The National Assessment of Educational Process at


In studying this phenomenon of “Achievement Gaps” in the American school system, I was left with one large question, which I think anyone who researches this problem will share: Why? Why is this an issue that is still so prevalent? In the article from Oregonian, “Racial gap in student achievement could be cultural bias, school leaders say,” author Melissa Navas attributes a large responsibility to the predominantly white race of educators. She recognizes the need for open discussion: this issue isn’t going to go away with silence, especially in the southernmost states, where the population of students with color is growing and the Achievement Gap is persisting.

The ability to recognize a problem is but the first step to finding a solution. In Mary Mooney’s article “Bridge achievement gap early, Multnomah County study urges,” she stresses the need for earlier education, such as Preschool and Kindergarten. I strongly agree with this idea of starting all students on an equal ground before sending them into school where they will be examined and tested against one another. She lists several schools that are successfully implementing early education and are resulting in a narrower gap between test scores.

I know that this issue will not be solved simply by students spending more time in school, but it is a great start to a problem that shouldn’t be a problem any longer.



To Infinity and Beyond!


How can social movements move our society towards educational equity?

How can we as students, use what we have learned to impact the racial/social/economic injustices that hinder our schools and prevent them from moving past mediocrity?

Public policy, classroom discussion, and even grassroots movements can sometimes fall short on action. Everyone knows that something needs to change. Some of us can even agree as to what needs to change, but this week we discuss what that looks like in action, beyond our classroom.

With discussions on how to narrow the achievement/opportunity gap in our minds, there are some challenges our public schools are facing. Here are some things that most movements/individuals can agree are necessary to school success and vitality.

1. Access to quality teachers.

2. Access to safe and equitable resources

3. Equitable and sufficient funding for ALL schools

 4. Reform that creates early intervention and encourages active, hands on learning.

    1. 5. Ensure equal opportunity to high school graduation and college participation to all students regardless of their background.

How can we use what we have learned to support these principles?

Help fund our schools by voting!

Voting and passing legislation that supports school funding is vital.

Tell people why voting is vital for better schools. A friend of mine recently complained that her sons school was really lacking in hands on learning and her son was struggling to stay focused. She doesn’t vote and doesn’t know where our money for schools comes from (I didn’t either!).

Discussion outside of class and our school peers will be important to education movement.


Information on funding through tax dollars here. 

Talk! Talk! Talk!

With your neighbors, your local politicians, your educators, community members, the list goes on! Open a discussion to get people thinking about their values and the future of their community.

Don’t know where to start? Here are some links to give you encouragement!

Get caught up on the latest education news here.

Some more news.

Get involved!

Actively participate in your community. It helps. It is seen by others. The results can be life changing for some.

General volunteer match up.

Volunteer at PPS

More volunteering

Finally, look inward. Are there bias’s, privileges, or other values you hold that could be excluding some the right to equitable education? It’s hard to look at our beliefs in this way, but who knows how valuable it could be!

Are you privileged?

Be aware

I think the key is to keep moving forward. Keep asking questions. Keep expanding your ideas and your tools.

What will you do to move to a more equitable education system?

– Tracy

“FREE” School Supply Store for Teachers?

School funding is an important issue in the education system and there seems to be little effective initiatives in place to increase the money pot. Instead of tackling the challenging larger approach of finding better ways to increase the overall … Continue reading

“Achievement” or “Opportunity” Gap? (by Guest Blogger Chelsea Holland)

Why Should We Stop Using the Term “Achievement Gap”?

standardized test“In Beloved, Toni Morrison taught us that usually”definitions belong to the definers—not the defined.”” “To those who are defined—who carry the weight and the scars of inaccurate, malicious words—language matters.” Wow, this quote from the article “Please Stop Using the Phrase ‘Achievement Gap’” really struck me. How often do you stop and think about the meaning of the words we are using, or the phrases we are saying? Not often. “Language counts because it suggests, if not highlights, the thinking underneath the words used.” “Words count because they indicate place, position, and power.” As with so many other things people who hold power are the ones who get to decide things. And at the same time I believe that they are often oblivious to some of the true problems that are happening.
Avoiding Inaccuracy
In this article the author states that the term “achievement gap” is inaccurate because it blames the historically marginalized, under-served victims of poor schooling and holds whiteness and wealth as models of excellence. I’m reminded of the discussion we had in class about another article that said that the gap in testing scores is consistently 8 points. This means that students are learning at the same rate, but some students are starting further behind. The achievement gap is only looking at the outcomes and not what is leading to those outcomes, or how the outcomes are consequences of those conditions.
 After reading this article and considering some of the points the author makes I agree with her and believe that “achievement gap” isn’t the best phrase for what is going on. “Opportunity gap” would be a better phrase. I do see why “Achievement” is being used, simply because it’s about the gap in the scores. However, there is a bigger picture we should be looking at about what is causing the gap and how students opportunities prior to school make a difference. It’s no coincidence that students that are born with certain privileges are getting higher scores, and this is a problem.
Questions for You
How can we close the gap? How can we get to those students who have less opportunities are work on prevention and less on fixing the gap? Do you think there is a problem with the term “Achievement gap”? Why do you think that is the term being used?


Want a Better Education? Draw a Number (by Guest Blogger Janice Nakamura)

the lotteryThis week I watched the acclaimed documentary, “The Lottery.”  This documentary is about Harlem Success Academy, a public charter school that emphasizes on helping students achieve higher reading or math results.  Now, I won’t give you entire synopsis of the documentary, that is for you to watch!  However, I can give you a slight bit of the rundown of the issues they addressed in the film and what we are currently covering in our capstone class.

The film focuses on four families trying to get their child in a spot into Harlem Success Academy, in hopes of a better academic life and future.  Founder Eva Markowitz has dedicated her life to revamping and creating the charter schools to be accessible to as many students as possible.  Her goal, as well as Harlem Success Academy’s goal is to say to students, “I am going to help you become a college graduate.”  That said, families are willing to do what it takes to have their child into the academy, which does an annual lottery system to select students that are admitted to their school for the following academic year.

 From what the film states, there is a massive achievement gap that is growing bigger and bigger each year, currently a four year gap between the average African-American twelfth grader having the same abilities as a Caucasian eighth grader in all subjects.  The interesting view I noticed in the film was that some school board members, state representatives or whatnot, have all said that they know what it takes for a school to be successful.  Harlem Success Academy is doing just that, but the question I keep asking myself is, why aren’t we seeing this elsewhere and why aren’t there anymore other schools like it? 

Back home in Hawaii, there were two charter schools that started about ten years ago.  Both still exist, but I do remember in the newspapers about how these two charter schools were shutting out students that wanted to attend but could not due to funds or students who were not able to make it in the regular school system, were eventually brought over to the schools.  I honestly had a bad impression of charter schools growing up and was clouded over stereotypes over the fact that it was either children who did not do well in school or were misbehaving, went there.  Children who’s parents could afford it, went there.  Parents negatively thinking our public school systems did not qualify, they sent their students there.  Those were some interesting things to think about.  Honestly, now that I learned more and continue to learn more in the topic, I think charter schools are positive ways to help students who struggle, but also students who want to be there as well.  In the film, none of the students that were filmed struggled with reading difficulty, but it was parent preference that they sent their children to Harlem Success Academy.  So, charter schools enable families to have a choice in what school they want their children to attend rather than zoned schools.

However, I’m beginning to wonder how does this become the choice for everyone?  I guess what I’m trying to say here is that it was heartbreaking that during the film some people did not get chosen for the lottery.  I think that the context of ‘lottery’ is a bit negative, especially when this golden ticket sets the path for a child, and one that does not receive the good news, well…try again next year or go somewhere else.  So, why are we making the future a gamble?  Shouldn’t everyone have a fair shot?  Of course, in our culture, the American Dream, we are told that if we work hard, we will succeed.  In this case, what if your cards don’t play out?  I believe that charter schools are an excellent way to improve a child’s academic life, but I still believe there is so much money, resources, staffing, and more that needs to be done to ensure that this opportunity is given to all students, not by the draw of a hat.

Thanks for reading,


U.S. Latinas/os in Education: The State of Crisis (by Guest Blogger Kaitlyn Smeback)

NOTE: This is Part I in Kaitlyn’s series on the topic of U.S. Latinas/os in education. About Me I am in my mid-twenties; I work as a para-educator in schools, and am a senior in Portland State’s Speech and Hearing … Continue reading

Could Measure 85 Help Close the Achievement Gap? (by Guest Blogger Francesca Wrobel)

Note: This post is Part 3 of a four-part series on Measure 85 written by PSU Capstone student bloggers.  Thank you, guest bloggers, for contributing this material and helping in our campaign to educate local voters on measures that impact … Continue reading

How Measure 85 Can Benefit Corporations & Community (by Guest Blogger Maureen Asino)

Note: This post is Part 2 of a four-part series on Measure 85 written by PSU Capstone student bloggers.  Thank you, guest bloggers, for contributing this material and helping in our campaign to educate local voters on measures that impact … Continue reading

New Oregon School Ratings: Let’s Show Kids They Truly Are a “Priority”

In my Friday morning Enhancing Youth Literacy class at Portland State University today, we started our session by taking a look at Oregon’s newly released school ratings.  What should we all know about this new system of rating?  Oregon was recently granted a No Child Left Behind Act waiver and has now developed its own rating system that includes labels of “priority,” “focus,” and “model” schools.  These labels only impact schools receiving Title I anti-poverty funding.  Priority schools appear to be the ones in the bottom 5% of achievement; focus schools are those in the bottom 15% of achievement, and model schools are the schools with the best performance that will be used as resources for best practices.  Priority and model schools will receive additional state support.  It’s a little unclear what that additional state support will look like, but hopefully it will actually be the kind of support these schools need.

Back to my moment in the classroom…

We did a bunch of searches to see how various local schools are doing.  We looked at the schools of the students that we have been volunteering with at Upward Bound (Madison, Grant, Roosevelt), we looked at schools that my own students had attended (Reynolds, Clackamas, etc.), and we checked a few schools in neighborhoods that are more affluent to compare them with schools in neighborhoods that struggle economically.

The result?  Concern for those schools who have historically done poorly and that continue to do so.  Worry for the kids and parents in schools that have struggled so hard.  Anxiety for the teachers in those struggling schools.  Dispair at graduation rates as low as 20%.  And a little bit of hope from the fact that Oregon is now looking at the growth in schools rather than just the scores.  If we can focus on growth, encourage more growth, and show kids that they can actually learn and grow, then we’ll be on the right path.

Here are some of the local news stories that have resulted from a first-glance analysis of the data:

  • Portland Schools Get More ‘Focus” on Achievement from State” (Portland Tribune): In this article, education journalist Jennifer Anderson points out that out of the entire state, Portland has 6 priority schools, 6 focus schools, and no model schools.
  • New Oregon School Ratings Show Familiar Patterns bu Highlight Little-Known Schools” (The Oregonian):Here, Beth Hammond talks about the ways the new school ratings show the same kinds of patterns we have seen under the No Child Left Behind ratings system.  Schools in higher poverty areas are doing worse than schools in more affluent areas.   Schools that serve families who are learning English as a second language are also struggling more than the schools that don’t.  Elementary schools are doing better than middle schools; middle schools are doing better than high schools; high schools are struggling.  No surprises here.  This grim picture has been painted again and again.

Of course, it’s not the data that’s most important in this story — it’s the kids, teachers, and families involved in the school system; it’s the community members who must come together to actually help schools see improvement.  If this NCLB waiver really works, we may see growth.  Let’s show “priority” schools that they’re not failures and that they’re not “in needs of improvement” — let’s show them that they are our priority in this next school year.  Please volunteer, vote to support kids/families in November, become a member of an advocacy organization like Stand for Children (or other similar groups), join the PTA, and/or become a mentor.  All of these acts show kids that they are our priority and that they are our focus. Let’s show kids that the change in language isn’t just another empty promise.