BRIDGING THE GAP: While the achievement gap is narrowing each year, socioeconomically disadvantaged students of color continue to be underrepresented in honors and AP courses, gifted programs and top universities. Have diverse schools like University High shown signs of closing the gap? Cartoon by Clara Vamvulescu.
University High School Charter

Conquering the achievement gap

Today, in the post-Civil Rights Movement era, greater focus is finally being placed on closing the achievement gap. The achievement gap is the disparity in the education performances of the different socioeconomic, racial, ethnic and gender groups. At a school like University High School where over 75 percent of students are either African-American or Hispanic and 73 percent are labelled as “socioeconomically disadvantaged,” one might expect there to be little to no achievement gap at all.

However, according to Principal Eric Davidson, the achievement gap nonetheless remains a reality not just at University High, but everywhere.

“Anyone who says [the achievement gap] doesn’t exist is not from this country, from this world,” said Davidson.

The reality of the achievement gap across the United States is both shocking and disappointing. Black and Latino students still make up only a small sliver of total admits to Ivy League universities. According to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, in 2014, black and Latino students made up 37 percent of high school students, but only 27 percent of students enrolled in at least one AP course and 18 percent of students who pass AP exams.

Even at Uni, there is a great disparity among the overall percentage of black and Latino students and the percentage of black and Latino students that are identified as “gifted.” While 77 percent of students at Uni are black and Latino, only 15.3 percent of black students and 17.5 percent of Hispanic students are enrolled in the Gifted & Talented Education (GATE) Program. Similarly, while only 22 percent of the student body is Asian or white, over 60 percent of Asian and white students are labelled as “gifted.”

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) is set to visit Uni on April 20 to see whether the school should remain accredited. Out of the six recommendations given to Uni by the WASC Committee, one was to “improve historically underperforming subgroup academic achievement.” How has Uni succeeded in fulfilling this recommendation?

According to Davidson, the school has made significant gains to improve academic performance outcomes for at-risk students across the board. The enrollment of African-American students in AP classes is increasing every year and the graduation rate among African-Americans as of 2014 is 94 percent. White students actually have the lowest graduation rate at 76 percent.

In regards to GATE, most students are classified as gifted in elementary school and referred to GATE by a teacher or parent. According to the New York Times, talented black and Hispanic students often go undiscovered by GATE because their teachers have low expectations of them or their parents lack knowledge about the gifted program.

“I think at our school, our percentages [of Hispanic and black students enrolled in GATE] are a little better than at other schools because students do take the initiative to try to get into the GATE program. Parents are also told by Jupiter Grades to go to meetings and ask questions,” GATE Coordinator Noehmi Garcia said.

While the achievement gap at Uni remains, both Garcia and Davidson stress that the racial and economic disparity is nowhere near as prevalent as it is across LAUSD and the nation. Credit recovery programs have helped minority students receive their diplomas and the recently adopted Restorative Justice program aims to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline that is widespread among poor students of color.

“Overall, we’re making good strides in improving the quality of education for all kids. We still have a long way to go,” Davidson concluded.