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Reassessing the Achievement Gap: An Intergenerational Comparison of African American Student Achievement before and after Compensatory Education and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act


by Christopher Span & Ishwanzya D. Rivers — 2012

Using data from the Digest of Educational Statistics, this article argues that an intergenerational comparison is a more productive, progressive method to interpret data used to gauge the achievement gap. It applies this method by comparing the academic achievement scores and educational outcomes of African Americans over a nearly 70-year period, 1940–2008, and uses the metrics— National Assessment of Educational Progress average reading scores in fourth and eighth grade and high school and college completion—most often applied in assessing the achievement gap. It argues that since the inception of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965), and the compensatory education programs that have grown out this act, African Americans have made some of the greatest strides in improving their educational performance and outcomes in virtually every measureable category used to assess the achievement gap. The intergenerational comparisons offered serve as a counterassessment to the traditional modes of analysis that compare the achievement scores and educational outcomes of white to minority students.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 6, 2012, p. 1-17
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16690, Date Accessed: 10/31/2014 4:01:40 PM

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About the Author
  • Christopher Span
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    E-mail Author
    CHRISTOPHER M. SPAN is the associate dean for academic programs in the College of Education and an associate professor in the Department of Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership (EPOL) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is an historian of African American education and a coeditor of History of Education Quarterly.
  • Ishwanzya Rivers
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    E-mail Author
    ISHWANZYA D. RIVERS recently obtained her doctorate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the Department of Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership. She is currently the assistant director of the Center of Multicultural Student Affairs and the Long-Vanderburg Caterpillar Scholars Program at Millikin University.
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