I get more and more irritated every time I hear an educator use the term gap students. Educators now routinely use that term to refer to subgroups of students whose test scores are significantly below those of their White middle-class, online non-disabled peers. The gap they refer to is the achievement gap between White students and other students. I know very well-meaning educators who regularly use the term and do so without any malicious intent. But the use of the term is derogatory, insulting, and dangerous for how educators think about children of color, children from low-income families, and children with disabilities. Additionally, use of the term gap students absolves schools and educators (at least in their thinking) from any culpability in creating the achievement gaps that they are referencing.
Use of the term gap students implies that there is something wrong with the children being referenced, some inherent deficit that exists with them; an implication which is false. The reasons for the achievement gaps that we see in schools are numerous and highly complex. We can discuss and debate those factors all day long, but we should never allow our thinking or language to insinuate that the blame for achievement gaps rests solely or even primarily with the children whose achievement scores are below the level we would like them to be. So-called gap children are the victims in all of this; victims of historical, societal, familial, community, and yes, school conditions that have created and perpetuate racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps.
So instead of referring to children as gap students, maybe we should refer to their teachers as gap teachers, their schools as gap schools, their school leaders as gap principals and gap superintendents. How about we call the state commissioner or superintendent a gap commissioner. Let’s see how much they like that. There is plenty enough blame to go around for the shameful achievement gaps that we now have. Instead of insulting and degrading our children by labeling them as gap students, let’s own up to our failures as adults and change our behavior and practice to better meet our children’s needs.