Since at least 2012, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has classified students of color and economically disadvantaged students as gap students; a classification which has filtered down to school districts and schools, so that teachers and administrators across the state commonly refer to students of color and economically disadvantaged students as gap students. KDE’s rationale for the classification of students in this way is that the academic achievement of these groups of students is typically significantly lower than that of White students, leaving significant achievement gaps. What KDE misses, however, is that gaps refers to the distances between the achievement scores of subgroups of students; gaps do not (or should not) refer to any specific groups of students. Referring to any group of students as gap students is at the very least extremely unprofessional and inappropriate. I argue that such labeling is additionally incredibly insulting, hurtful, and even harmful to children.
It is beyond my understanding why anyone would think such a labeling convention would be a good thing. Achievement gaps are ugly. They represent failures on the part of adults to get learning right for students of color and economically disadvantaged students. What achievement gaps do not represent is wrongdoing or shortcomings on the part of children. The academic achievement scores of children of color at levels significantly below those of White children is not a function of children of color having any less capacity to learn than White children. Why, then, would KDE attach such a derogatory label to children?
If we’re honest about it, the gap label would be more appropriately applied to teachers, schools, and school districts than to children. There are teachers and schools that we know for certain do more to exacerbate achievement gaps than to eliminate them. There are teachers and schools in Kentucky that are either unwilling or unable to meet the specific learning needs of culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse learners. Perhaps KDE should consider labeling those teachers and schools as gap teachers and gap schools. But to attach such a disparaging label to children is inaccurate and inexcusable.
I do not believe there was malicious intent with the creation of the gap category of students. In fact, I believe KDE officials’ intentions were probably noble, but even with the best of intentions, the classification of students of color and economically disadvantaged students as gap students is highly problematic and must be changed immediately.