The Achievement Gap
as Seen Through the Eyes of a Student

by Robin Mwai, SSFP Staff Writer and Deidre Green, Managing Editor

The achievement gap is very prevalent in my school on a day-to-day basis. From the lack of minority students taking honors classes, to the over abundance of minority students occupying the hallways during valuable class time, the continuously nagging minority achievement gap prevails.

Upon entering LaFollette High School, there are visible traces of the achievement gap all throughout the halls. It seems as if there is always a presence of a minority student in the hallway no matter what the time of day. At any time during the school day there are at least 10 to 15 students, many of whom are minorities, wandering the halls aimlessly. These students residing in the halls are either a result of getting kicked out of class due to behavior issues, or for some, the case may be that they simply never cared to go to class at all. This familiar scene causes some staff to assume that all minority students that are seen in the halls during class time are not invested in their education. These assumptions are then translated back to the classroom where teachers then lower their expectations for these students and students who appear to be like them.

While there are some students of color who would rather spend their school time in the halls instead of in the classroom, others wish for the opportunity to be seen as focused students. Sadly many bright and capable minority students are being overlooked because teachers see them as simply another unmotivated student to be pushed through the system. Being a high achieving minority student in the Madison school District continues to be somewhat of a rarity—even in 2014. Three out of the four classes I am taking this semester at La Follette High School, which uses the four-block schedule, are honors or advanced courses. Of the 20 to 25 students in those honors classes, I am one of a total of two minority students enrolled.

Even though a large percentage of the student body is made up of minority students, very few of theses students are taking honors or advanced classes. These honors courses provide students with necessary skills that help prepare them for college. These skills include: critical thinking, exposure to a wider variety of concepts, and an opportunity to challenge their own mental capacities in ways that non-honors courses don’t allow. This means that the majority of the schools’ population is not benefiting from these opportunities. Instead, they are settling for lower-level courses that are not pushing them to the best of their abilities.

It is unfortunate that so many of our community’s young people are missing out on being academically challenged in ways that could ultimately change their lives. This all too familiar issue is a complex community problem with no simple solutions. However it is one that should be addressed with the appropriate sense of urgency.

Robin Mwai is a Sophomore at LaFollette High School and serves as a staff writer for Dane County’s Teen Newspaper Simpson Street Free Press. Deidre Green is a LaFollette High School Graduate and is now a UW-Madison Senior. She is also a graduate of Simpson Street Free Press and now serves as Managing Editor.

At my school I see a lot of students wondering around the halls during class time. Also kids that don't care about their education but still get help from teachers to motivate them to go to class. – Fabian , Madison, WI (2014-01-23 17:04)
This was a nice article. It was very much like my school with students wandering the halls. – Kv Hutchins , Madison,Wi (2014-01-23 17:27)
Your article was very well written. It does happen in my school with tons of kids wandering the halls. You guys did a very good job! – Vindia Robinson , Madison,Wi (2014-01-23 17:29)
Very thought provoking article. – Ridell , Zaminsky (2014-01-23 17:37)
I've always been frustrated to see that social groups continue to be largely defined by race among other things giving people even more of an opportunity to clump minority groups together and as Robin says "lower their expectations for these students" which only perpetuates the achievement gap. – Natalie , Madison (2014-01-23 18:01)
Your article was really well written and thought provoking. This is a very big issue at my school as well. – Sylvan , Madison, WI (2014-01-23 18:39)
Well done. What do you think could be done to get students back into class. I think that the kind of control that SSFP gives students over their learning is very motivating. Is there a way to get this same approach into the schools? – Louise Robbins , Madison (2014-01-25 20:32)
Preach SSFP – Jose Pedraza , Boys and Girls Club (2014-04-03 19:49)