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Leaving Behind the Underdogs

Courtney A. Barr

Legal Studies Academy

First Colonial High School



The author of this paper has set out to inform any readers that there is a discrepancy in the school

system of advancement between students who may be better off or worse off than other

students. Throughout this research paper the author will first provide testing data from two

educational sources, one from the entire nation while the other will come from the state of

Virginia, in order to show the achievement gap between students of different ethnicities. They will

then provide correlational research to provide details about various discrepancies in the following

categories: Ethnicity, Income/Socioeconomic Status, Household Atmosphere and Gender. This

will be followed by a section about various educational laws in place that may either support or

break down the discrepancies between students, both federally and state based. The next section

will cover how parental involvement affects how the student succeeds in school and the last

section will cover two court cases relevant to the topic presented. Lastly, the author will present a


Keywords: achievement, income, gap, act, advanced


Leaving Students Behind

In the United States there is a discrepancy between different social problems and the

advancement of students. These social problems include socio-economic status, low income

households, single parent households, ethnicity, and even gender. The current educational reforms

and laws in place are causing an achievement gap between students in different social standings

by creating a system that benefits those that have better opportunities. A discrepancy can be

noticed when analyzing statistics and demographics of different high school advanced classes and

by analyzing various court cases about the achievement gap between students in rich areas versus

students in poor districts and showing how much the state needs to implement standards and

ensure equal achievement.

Test Score Data

Through analyzing the score results of both advanced placement course tests and the

Virginia state test, or the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL), the gap between different

ethnicities and their results is noticeable.

Advanced Placement Exam

One of the national tests provided for students in order to earn college credits while still in

high school is known as the Advanced Placement Exam. These exams, provided by College

Board, in over 30 courses are available at the high schools discretion. They allow for students to

take an advanced course during their school year, and during the month of May pay a price to take

the exam, having to score within a three to five range, in order to earn the college credit. Financial

aid is available for students that fall within the range to cover the costs of the exam if they may be

unable to pay for their test. There is a wide gap between the number of students in each race that

have taken the exams in 2015 and in 2016, as well as the scores of the students who took those

tests. In both of those years, there will be specific evidence presented in the Biology exam and the

Calculus AB exam (The College Board, 2016).

2015. During this year, the ethnicity options available for students to identify as were:

American Indians, Asian, Black, Mexican American, Puerto Rican, Other Hispanic, White, Other,

and Not Stated. When counting all identifiers, the total number of students that took the Advanced

Placement exam was 4,343,547. The results that were seen in this group of students from the

number that took the test ranged from 21,632 to 2,360,536. American Indian students represent

the lowest number of test takers, and White students represent the highest number of test takers.

This is one piece of evidence that shows how students of two different ethnicities, one being seen

as the most well-off versus one that may be seen as a struggling minority, can differ on the scale

of Advanced Placement exam takers. Another way to see how different students place when

taking an exam is by taking some of the exams listed and comparing the average results of

students. Two courses that will be looked at in this section are going to be Biology and Calculus

AB. In Biology, the number of students total that took this exam was 217,564 and the national

average score was a 2.90. White students had results that showed they were well represented in

this exam and had an average score higher than the national average. Out of 117,741 White

students that took the Biology Exam, the average score was a 3.06, as for the Calculus AB exam,

166,333 students took the exam and the average was 3.01. As for the scores and participation of

the American Indian students, for the Biology exam, 1,156 students signed up and scored an

average of 2.59, while only 289 students signed up for the Calculus AB exam and 2.41 was the

average score (The College Board, 2016).

2016. The College Board changed the available ethnicity identifiers within the span of a

year to both group together similar ethnicities and to provide new options for students. The

options and groupings that they made was American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Black,

Hispanic/Latino, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, White, Two or more races, and no

response. Adding the options to not indicate an identifying ethnicity and choosing two or more

races may create some discrepancies due to the fact that those students would have been grouped

in another category. Based on this, the lowest number comes from the other category, but in trying

to analyze two specific races, the next lowest number of students signed is found in the Native

Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander and the highest is the White ethnicity. There were 7,380 Native

Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander students signed up and 2,380,051 White students signed up.

These ethnicity dependent numbers were taken out of the 4,559,273 total students that signed up

for Advanced Placement exams. Once again, during the next school year, the White students reach

into the millions, while all other ethnicities are left in the low thousands. In reference to the

Biology and Calculus AB scores we can see much of the same results as the preceding year. The

Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islanders had 344 students take the Biology test, scoring an

average of a 2.47 and had 451 students take the Calculus AB and a 2.55 was the average score.

While the White students scored an average of a 3.03 on the Biology exam, with a total of

122,199 students taking this exam, and a total of 164,060 students take the Calculus AB exam and

those students had a 3.10 as the average score (The College Board, 2016).

Virginia SOL Test

Each state was required to have some form of a test that will provide evidence on whether

or not teachers and the state are meeting certain standards in order to ensure academic

achievement goal established by the No Child Left Behind Act. The state of Virginia adopted the

Virginia Standards of Learning, or SOL tests, in order to measure this achievement. For the school

years 2013-2014, 2014-2015, and 2015-2016, the schools tested students in subjects such as

English, both reading and writing, mathematics, history, and science. The ethnicities that were

used in order to identify students included American Indian, Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native

Hawaiian, White, and two or more races. In the mathematics subject testing there was a noticeable

discrepancy in students who took the SOL and students that passed the SOL from White students

to Black students. In the 2013-2014 school year, 97 Black students were tested, but only 60 of

them passed the SOL; as for their White counterparts, 98 students were tested, and 80 of them

passed. Although this discrepancy was noted, there is a gradual decrease of the gap of students

who take the test and the number of those students who pass the SOL. For example, in the 2014-

2015 school year 98 Black students took the mathematics SOL and 75 of them passed; and even

in the 2015-2016 school year 97 Black students took the exam and 83 of them passed. While for

the White students, there were 98 test takers in the 2014-2015 school year, 92 of which passed;

and there were 99 test takers in the 2015-2016 school year, 94 of which passed (Virginia

Department of Education, 2016).

Correlational Research

Throughout this section of the paper, there will be different factors that correspond with a

students advancement in the school system. These factors that may affect the advancement of

various students are as follows: how the ethnicity or the language spoken at home can affect what

classes the student may be able to do well in during their time in school, the influence of income

and socioeconomic status, the household atmosphere, the neighborhood the child is raised in, and

the gender of the child.


One school subject was analyzed in regards to the ethnicity of a student and their

advancement in that subject by the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. The school subject that

was tested was fifth grade science. Students score reports were compared between the years 1996

and 2005. After compiling the data and analyzing the outcome, the United States Department of

Education was able to conclude that the Caucasians demographic of students had scored the

highest in the science test presented, while the African American demographic scored the lowest.

Other nationalities that were included in the study were the Asians/Pacific Islanders, American

Indians, and Hispanics. The scores from lowest to highest in a list are the African Americans,

Hispanics, American Indians, Asians/Pacific Islanders, and Caucasians (Kohlhaas, Lin, & Chu,


Income/Socioeconomic Status

The same study mentioned previously also collected data for success rates in terms of

whether or not the students lived in poverty and the results on the science test. After the

completion of this research, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study concluded that there was a

difference in the test scores between those students whom lived in poverty and those that did not.

Even though there was a discrepancy between these two levels of income, the study showed that it

was not solely due to the students personal living space, but the teaching quality that was

provided at the educational institute, parental influences, and the students language ability. This

suggests that there is not an equal opportunity given to students in neighborhoods that may not be

able to afford adequate teachers (Kohlhaas et al., 2010).

Through this same study there was found to be a strong connection between academic

performance and what the student could relate back to what happens in the students lives. There

was a correlation between weak academic performance and a students perception that the subject

had any relevance in the students socio-cultural life. Another reason for this low performance

was due to the disconnect of a clear and consistent teacher-student learning method (Kohlhaas et

al., 2010).

A finding that Reardon discovered, while completing research related to the widening of

the income achievement gap, was that there is already a noticeable gap taking place as soon as

children enter kindergarten. Students were tested, in reading, firstly in kindergarten and then

several other times until they reached eighth grade. This test showed that there was little

difference in the gap between low income students and higher income students. The study showed

that it was 1.15 standard deviations when the children entered kindergarten and 1.25 standard

deviations in 8th grade (Reardon, 2013). Through this study there is adequate evidence to

suggest that students have an income achievement gap right when they start school, and little is

done to close this gap through their 8th grade year.

Household Atmosphere

In the year 2009, over 53 percent of the individuals living in foster care happened to be

African American males. This type of living is also referred to as out-of-home placement, and

there is a strong correlation between those in this situation and the success academically of these

students. The achievement gap, or the correlation between out-of-home placement and the

academic success of the student, can be seen in any grade level or any level of education:

elementary school, middle school, high school, and college. African American male students are

believed to be under excelling in their classes because they are unable to relate any of the

information to their personal lives (Miller Dyce, 2015).

Overarching problems that impede the advancement of these students in foster homes may

be attributed to poor ecological conditions in the home and neighborhood, feelings of inferiority,

lack of compatibility between preferred learning styles and teacher instructional method, and

ambiguous teacher posturing (Tate as cited in Miller Dyce, 2015).


The previous act that was established and enacted until 2007, the No Child Left Behind

Act had data on how there was an achievement gap between the advancement of females in

science in comparison to males in science. There was no previous knowledge of this because there

had never been a standardized test in place to measure achievement of anyone. Once this

discrepancy was discovered, even through multiple other tests, males were able to outperform

females (Kohlhaas et al., 2010).

Educational Laws

There is an achievement gap of students in school all over the country. These laws can be

seen both federally and they can also vary by state. Whether it be due to race, sex, or income,

there is a problem found all over in regards to educational advancement. The following category

shows the laws in place that were created to combat problems that may arise.

Federal Law

This section will first examine one educational act that was in place, which was widely

discussed all over the world. It will then examine a new act that is projected to replace the first act

that was originally in place.

No Child Left Behind Act. One reform that was in place for the whole country to combat

any discrepancies that could be identified in the school systems was the No Child Left Behind

Act, which was enacted in 2001. This act was proactive in theory, but in action it compelled more

harm than good. The overarching goal of the No Child Left Behind Act was to ensure that all

children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and

reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and

academic assessments (Superfine, 2008). In order for this goal to be met, the act required that

each state develop its own way of testing students, in reading, mathematics, and science, in a way

that could test if the student was passing by a basic, proficient, and advanced scale (Superfine,

2008). These tests would be given to students that were in grades three through eight, ten, eleven,

and twelve. If these goals were meant and the states didnt meet adequate yearly progress

(Superfine, 2008) they were to contact a local educational agency, which would provide extra

services to the students that werent meeting the passing standards. When a school doesnt make

adequate yearly progress a second year, then the school would be identified or corrective action

by the local educational agency. The agency would have to implement one of six actions as

quoted in Superfine (2008) below:

(i) Replace the school staff who are relevant to the failure to make adequate yearly

progress. (ii) Institute and fully implement a new curriculum, including providing

appropriate professional development for all relevant staff, that is based on

scientifically based research and offers substantial promise of improving educational

achievement for low-achieving students and enabling the school to make adequate

yearly progress. (ii) Significantly decrease management authority at the school level.

(iv) Appoint an outside expert to advise the school on its progress toward making

adequate yearly progress (v) Extend the school year or school day for the school.

(vi) Restructure the internal organizational structure of the school. (p.49)

If these set of standards werent met within a year of implementation then the local educational

agency was once again required to execute one of the following list of actions also found in

Superfine (2008):

(i) Reopening the school as a public charter school. (ii) Replacing all or most of the

school staff (which may include the principal) who are relevant to the failure to

make adequate yearly progress. (iii) Entering into a contract with an entity, such as a

private management company, with a demonstrated record of effectiveness, to

operate the public school. (iv) Turning the operation of the school over to the State

(v) Any other major restructuring of the schools governance arrangement that makes

fundamental reforms. (p.49-50)

Although this act was a good standard for determining of the schools in the country were

reaching necessary requirements and doing what they are meant to be doing in providing a

proficient education for all students, it had some problems. For example, it cost a lot in

order to rectify some of the issues that the schools may have had and it also had a waiver

attached in 2011. This waiver was known as the Elementary and Secondary School Act

Waiver. It would allow for states that qualify to implement rigorous and comprehensive

State-developed plans designed to improve educational outcomes for all students, close

achievement gaps, increase equity and improve the quality of education (Suski & Ciolfi,

2015). With this added waiver, the act wouldnt be able to do what it had originally set out

to do and would thus increase discrepancies between schools systems within the same state

and all over the country.

This act was later removed from inaction in 2011. A new act, known as the Every

Student Succeeds Act, will later replace the No Child Left Behind Act (Lee, 2016).

Every Student Succeeds Act. This act enables states and the local government to

have complete regulation over what happens in their school systems. But with this, the

federal funding that was provided in a fuller amount, is removed as well as the programs

that the government would originally provide. With the removal of the No Child Left

Behind Act, the clause embedded into this act goes away as well, the Adequate Yearly

Progress system. This act would also be able to provide more assistance to the homeless

youth as needed, more so than having a federal act would allow for. There is also a sub grant

that would be included in the implementation of this act, known as the Local Academic

Flexible Grant. Although it may still have some complications to work out, this act is

projected to be implemented in the school systems, starting in the 2017-2018 school year

("Cutting Federal Requirements and Giving States More Control over Education Programs,"


State Law

Virginia. There was an act in place known as the McKinney-Vento Homeless

Assistance Act which allowed homeless students to still be able to attend the school they are

currently at no matter their status as homeless. This act required for the state of Virginia to

provide any assistance necessary, whether it be after school help or transportation, in order

to allow students that are identified as homeless to succeed in the educational system. In

order to allow students to remain at a level of educational achievement that they are already

at, this act allows for students to remain at the school, in which they were at before they

became homeless, upon becoming homeless (Suski & Ciolfi, 2015).

Massachusetts. A reform that was enacted in the state of Massachusetts, titled as the

Education Reform Act of 1993, was enacted because of a noticeable difference in the

advancement of a wealthy district and a poor district. It required for there to be funding

directed to the poor district in order to close any advancement gap between the two districts.

Through this act, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts noticed that the discrepancy between

the two districts was due to the teaching quality, supplies, and resources available for the

students to use (Chieppo & Gass, 2010).

More recently, the state of Massachusetts created a standard that would measure how well

the districts followed the standards they were given. This standard was titled the Office of

Educational Quality and Accountability standard; it measures how effectively each school district

implemented the reforms that were needed to be enacted and it was enacted in 2001. Although it

had a significant purpose, there were several people who opposed the standard. The opposition

came from various critics who were the ones charged with the audits. This program was very

strict in implementing its policies and if school districts did not follow through correctly they

would be audited and have to be reported. In February 2008, the reform standard was removed

from enactment due to the finding that there was a close connection between the educational

policy and politics (Chieppo & Gass, 2010).

Parental Involvement

There was found to be a decrease of parental involvement as the students increased in

grade levels. As students went from elementary school to high school, parents participation in the

education of the students decreased. Not only was there a disconnect to parental involvement due

to the sole parents responsibility, but also because parents found it hard to get involved when

teachers didnt reach out to them. Some of the parents needed prompting to help students with

homework and the students didnt ask for help. There is a lack of communication between the

families at home and the teachers at school that needs to be present in order for parents to actively

participate in the education of the students (Paul & Stevens, 2010). In support of this information

Ms. Deborah Shelton said that is partially the responsibility of the school division and the child's

school to educate the parents about the opportunities available to kids (D. Shelton, Personal

communication, November 22, 2016). During the interview she also mentioned that in order to

allow for parents the opportunity to be involved in their students school work, the school must

provide meetings after school when parents are off from work in order to catch them at a time that

is right for them. Ms. Shelton also provided information that some parents are willing to get

involved with their students school work, when families may be of a lower socio-economic

status, while some parents dont even want to be involved in school related anything (D. Shelton,

Personal communication, November 22, 2016).

Case Law

Hancock v. Commissioner of Education

This court case took place in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk and

the court ruled in favor of the defendant in a 5-2 ruling. The background of the case can be

summarized as a the plaintiff, Hancock, taking the Commissioner of Education to court in order to

fight for the right of those schools in poverty to be able to reach the same educational level as the

schools not in poverty. A previous court decision McDuffy v. Secretary was the supporting basis in

this court case. The previous court case found that the Massachusetts school system is responsible

for making sure that all schools within the system are working towards a common set of standards

and that the schools are equip enough to meet those standards. This included the creation of the

Education Reform Act of 1993. The Education Reform Act of 1993 was a reform act that was

created in order to combat the educational opportunity gap between students in poor districts and

students in rich districts. The act provided funding for schools in poor districts in order to fund for

materials needed to close, or minimize, the gap. But in the Hancock court case, there is a problem

with what was previously set in place. The court found out that the school system was at first

providing for this discrepancy between the two sides of the schools, but then the funds provided

for the schools in poor districts started to dwindle. This caused an unfair advantage for those

schools in the rich districts, who were able to provide better teachers, better supplies, and better

supporting factors to create the better education. Because of the sharply diminished

Commonwealth revenues there was a cut in the funding for the schools in poor districts, but this

slowly became an increase in the cutting of programs and not providing much of any funding.

Although the city still provides funding for those in poor districts, it is not enough to be able to

support an education equal to that of those in rich districts. In the end, the court found that there

was a need for the education reform to improve but that this was not a case where the Legislature

reasonably could be said to have neglected or avoided a constitutional command (Hancock v.

Commissioner of Education, 2005). This case played an important role in creating a standard for

the Commonwealth to follow in order to ensure that each student in each district, whether poor or

rich, receive what they need in order to have an equal chance at an equal education. Whether it be

providing funds to purchase new textbooks or finding teachers that adequately teach the students

what they need to know. In support of the topic in this paper, this case provides detail that there

needs to be an equal opportunity for students to succeed, no matter what neighborhood or area

they may live in. It also shows that in order to provide an equal education, the city or state may

have to provide the funds and the resources the school system needs.

Hoke County Board of Education v. State of North Carolina

This court case was conducted in a way that most court cases arent normally conducted.

The case went to the North Carolina Supreme Court and after the ruling, they turned the case back

to Superior Court Judge in order to conduct a trial. This trial would identify if the State had

adequately done their job in providing every student the equal opportunity for a sound basic

education (Duke University: Children's Law Clinic, n.d.). There were several issues that were

discussed in this case during the appeal process. The state believed that the court incorrectly

identified: (1) when a student has failed to obtain a sound basic education; (2) causation for any

such proven failure; and (3) the States liability for such failure (Hoke County Board of

Education v. State of North Carolina). Through sufficient evidence, the court is able to determine

that a student has not received a sound basic education if they have not reached Level III or IV

proficiency on their standardized subject tests. With this standard set, the court determines that the

State of North Carolina has not met this standard, and thus has failed to meet the requirement for

providing a sufficient education for students. The evidence presented, showed that the students

who were not receiving the sound basic education werent doing well in subjects such as:

mathematics, English, and history. Another problem brought up through the courts was not only

the graduation rate of students, but out of that graduation rate, how prepared they were for the

jobs that they received. When Hoke County presented the evidence that students were not

prepared for their jobs, one of the employers said that local graduates, are not qualified to

perform even basic tasks that are not needed for the jobs available (Hoke County Board of

Education v. State of North Carolina). This showed the court that the school system was not

preparing the students for life after high school and that they were not providing the necessary

resources for those students to excel. Judge Manning ruled that: (1) every child is entitled to

have a competent teacher; (2) every school must have a competent principal; and, (3) every school

district must have the resources necessary to adequately support these students, teachers and

principals (Duke University: Children's Law Clinic, n.d.). In determining that it was the States

requirement to ensure that every student has the right to an equal education and there must be a

standard set to determine this, it shows that there must be a type of measurement to show when

the goal has been met. And if the goal hasnt been met, this court case ensures that the State must

implement and resolve any issues that may come up to distract from the reaching of the equal



In conclusion, through the research seen in this paper it is seen that there may be laws and

reforms in place in order to ensure that each student in the school systems receive adequate and

equal education, but there are still many discrepancies that need to be rectified and noted. There is

a need for more support for the younger children in the school system and even for some of the

older children. For those students who are in a minority or in a household that may be struggling

they need another support system that their family cannot provide. And for those students that

take easier courses because they dont want to be the only student of their race in an advanced

course, they need the encouragement to step out of their comfort zone and explore their interests

free of judgement. If more educational laws were in place and more funding, federally or on the

state level, was provided in order to create programs to help struggling students, the education

system would run as smoothly as ever.



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