A Tool for Closing the Achievement Gap
Rod Paige, U.S.
Secretary of Education
there are pockets of excellence all around America, due in great
part to the hard work of dedicated teachers, there are still children
in America who are being left behind. Fewer than a third of our
fourth graders can read proficiently at grade level. Based on
National Assessment of Educational Progress data, nearly 70 percent
of inner-city and rural fourth graders cannot read at even a basic
level. Nearly a third of our college freshmen must take remedial
The achievement gap between our disadvantaged and minority students
and their more advantaged peers is real. And as the numbers illustrate,
it is persistent. It is those students who are being left behind
by our system.
President Bush has made closing the achievement gap his goal.
A key component to our success in closing the achievement gap
in Texas was testing. But I know testing is a very broad term;
it means different things to different people. There are good
tests and bad tests; there are also many uses for tests. We are
talking about achievement tests that are aligned with standards,
objectives and curriculum and that are used to measure and understand
progress toward mastery of those standards. These tests are the
best tools we have for discovering which schools, and which methods,
are succeeding, and also for doing the same for each child.
At the community level, tests of student achievement help us to
define success in terms of student performance—not spending—to
focus on the outputs of our system, not the inputs. At the classroom
level, testing also helps teachers, and at the level of the child,
test results also give parents information and control over their
children’s education. Some parents do not even know their children’s
schools are failing. Some parents do not even know their children
are failing. Tests help us give each child an academic identity.
The president’s plan calls specifically for disaggregation of
state test data, and requires states to measure progress in closing
the achievement gap as one of the criteria for statewide success.
I will have a big role in following up with states. I will ensure
that their testing and accountability plans will measure every
student against high standards, and we will hold schools accountable
for the results.
For decades, we have determined success based on dollars, not
scores. If money alone were our answer, our problems would have
been solved 20 years ago. If more money were the answer, children
of all races would be reading and doing math at or above grade
from a speech delivered to the Education Writers Association.
Reprinted with permission from U.S. Department of Education, “Community
Update,” June/July 2001.
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