The achievement gap is a widespread construct in the fields of human development and education. Its prevalence in research and scholarship largely serves to demonstrate enduring differences in academic achievement between groups of students based on race or ethnicity. This thesis, a combination of synthesis and analysis of relevant literature as well as a policy review and critique, examines how the prominence of “achievement gap” discourse has influenced education policy. Theoretical frameworks of critical race theory, critical discourse analysis, researcher positionality, and critical bifocality are employed. Using these theories, the thesis analyzes the history of race in the American public education system, the existence of meritocratic ideologies, and the roots of disparate educational outcomes to understand how students of color have been overlooked and oppressed within the current system. Key findings focus on the racist construction of the American education system, the role of school and residential segregation in building systematic barriers to educational success for students of color, and the impact of “achievement gap” discourse on high-stakes testing and standardization, as exemplified in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Recommendations for adopting “opportunity gap” discourse, creating alternative accountability models, and moving towards multicultural education are discussed.
Smith, Becca, "Rethinking the Achievement Gap: Race and Deficit Discourse in American Education" (2019). Human Development Honors Papers. 7.
The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.