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School Choice & Charters Opinion

What Does It Mean to Be a “Gap Closer?” A Look at Three Boston Charter High Schools

By Eduwonkette — December 08, 2008 1 min read
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We hear a lot about “gap closing” schools these days, though this term often gets tossed around loosely. Consider Steven Wilson’s recent report on “gap closing” Boston charter schools, in which gap closing schools are defined as, “schools that serve students of color from economically disadvantaged families and post achievement levels that rival - and sometimes exceed - suburban school districts.”

Gap closing, according to Wilson, refers to proficiency rates on state tests, and herein lies the rub. It’s possible for gaps to appear to be closing on state tests if we rely on proficiency levels, even as wide gaps persist when we consider average state tests scores or other measures of performance. And by thrusting these schools onto center stage and making the claim that schools - right now - are entirely eliminating disadvantage, we end up perverting the debate about what it takes to reduce inequality.

Wilson profiles three gap closing high schools - Academy of the Pacific Rim, Boston Collegiate, and the MATCH school - and reports that these schools are exceeding state passing rates on the MCAS test. Hence, they are “gap closers.” Surely these schools deserve props, but we continue to see quite substantial gaps between their students and the rest of the state when we look at these schools’ SAT scores. (Normal caveats on SAT scores here: Everyone does not take the SAT, but the latent claim in the “gap closing” debate is that students at these high-flying schools walk out as “college ready” as college going students from more advantaged families.)

Below, I list the combined 2007 reading/math score for these schools and a few comparison groups (See Massachusetts SAT scores and school scores here.):

* White Massachusetts students: 1061
* Massachusetts state average: 1035
* MATCH (23 test takers): 988
* Boston Collegiate (14 test takers): 964
* Academy of the Pacific Rim (34 test takers): 932

In short, we’ve still got a gap - kids at these gap closing schools are lagging behind their more advantaged college-going peers. The two take home points here? Beware of gap claims made based on proficiency rates, and don’t count on schools - even great ones - to remedy the substantial disadvantages that have accrued over these students’ lifetimes.

Image Credit: E3

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