How the Gap Creates a Gap

Commonly coined as the ‘Gap Within the Gap’, economic status plays an important role in the success of students in districts across the country, state, and city. This issue is relevant within our own school district Grand Rapids Public Schools, and how our students are affected. Students who are at an economic disadvantage more often have lower test scores than their well-off peers. As this trend has continued over the past few decades, the gap has drastically increased by nearly 40%. In a country where going to college is nearly crucial to not being left behind, having decent test scores is vital to getting that further education. 

This persistent economic disadvantage continues to affect the Grand Rapids Public Schools. As reported in the most recent board meeting (Sept. 21, 2021) this issue is present in student testing scores.  In data collected in the  2018-2019 school year, they were able to come to the conclusion that black, Hispanic, and indigenous students who were economically disadvantaged had on average lower scores than students who were Asian, white, or mulit-racial. This same circumstance continues for students who are not economically disadvantaged. When looking at the graphs in this video at time code 27:18, the presenter explains how it’s clear to see that economic disadvantages play a huge role in testing proficiency and scoring. 

This issue includes testing going beyond high school, like the SAT. In the United States, more often than not, higher  income students have a better chance of getting into their goal schools and having higher scores on the test. One reason for this is they have more money to pay for classes and tutoring. Also in the US, many school districts that have more money offer more courses to help students prepare for this test. These courses include AP or SAT prep classes. 

One main study conducted by different groups and universities is how students who receive reduced-price and free meals at school affect scores. The facts of this case are as follows: “Student eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch is a widely used measure for poverty in schools, even though it offers a very broad brushstroke.”- Katherine Michelmore and Susan Dynarski. Though it is also common in some places for schools to offer these lunch programs for students above the poverty line.  In context to testing scores, there is a bit of diversity. It depends on how often MI students have been qualified for the meals. As Michigan University says, “ 60% of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch at least once by 8th grade and 14% receive meal subsidies every year they are in school.” In the cases of students eligible for meals every year, they are nearly a whole grade below their peers who don’t have subsidized meals. 

However, It is important to note that there is a percentage difference in testing scores between different districts and schools. It’s significant that the culture of the school or district is known, as well as how they conduct testing. Though in general students who are economically disadvantaged tend to have lower scores on standardized testing. This can range anywhere from 40% to 100% below grade level. Another important note is that as of 2016, “Students who have spent the entirety of their schooling receiving subsidized lunch are disproportionately black and Hispanic, making up 51% of all students who always receive a subsidy. Contrast this with the fact that black and Hispanic students represent just 37% of the students who ever receive meal subsidies, 24% of 8th graders overall, and 7% of the never-disadvantaged and it becomes clear that traditionally underserved minorities are disproportionately at risk for long spells of economic disadvantage” – University of Michigan 

Using this model to identify students at a disadvantage has it’s setbacks as well. There are many students who receive these meals and perform well, and since so many students (nearly 50% of US students) qualify for them, it can be hard to truly pick-out which students are in the most need of academic help and attention. One way it can be easily identified is by looking at the student’s history of receiving these meals. By looking at the history, it illustrates the “extent of disadvantage she experiences” – Michigan University. 

What can we do about this growing gap? First and foremost, we must look at students’ histories and identify those students who need the most academic assistance. In addition to this we can more directly offer the resources the individual students need to succeed. We also need to find ways to reach board members in hopes that they can see this growing disparity and put into action ways we can help the students who need it the most. In a country where it’s almost necessary to get a college education. In order to prosper, we must find ways to help students who most need it.


Writer at The City Voice

Junior at City. Loves listening to music, biking, and hanging out with friends and family.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments