What Explains the Persistent Gap in Achievement in American Schools?

November 15, 2017

Two Models of Learning and Achievement: An Explanation for the Achievement Gap?

A 2015 paper by Stuart Yeh offers evidence on how to improve the performance of all students and close the achievement gap between students of different socioeconomic statuses and races. A persistent gap in student achievement between disadvantaged minority students and their middle-class peers has existed in the United States for over 50 years. This gap continues despite decades of education reform. Yeh hypothesizes that the conventional school system is structured in a way that reduces student motivation to succeed. Students become disengaged after experiencing repeated failure, resulting in depressed achievement and grades. This cycle continues to feed on itself as low achievement and poor grades further decrease motivation, engagement, and achievement. Yeh’s research suggests that two critical factors may account for the phenomenon of substandard student achievement: lack of a system for individualizing task difficulty and insufficient rapid performance feedback. These factors appear to be significantly more powerful than sociocultural circumstances (socioeconomic status or race), lack of accountability, lack of choice and competition, and low teacher quality. The implication is that letter grades are not merely an indicator of performance but potentially a causal factor in perpetuating the achievement gap.

Citation: Yeh, S. S. (2015). Two models of learning and achievement: An explanation for the achievement gap? Teachers College Record117(12), 1–48.

Link: http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentID=18156