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The concept of equity in academic achievement for all students, regardless of ethnicity, is an issue that has captured the attention of politicians, educators, and the federal government since the 1960s with the implementation of the Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965 (Frankenbeg&Lee, 2002; Yell&Drasgow, 2005). The Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) was soon followed by the report, A Nation at Risk, in which the low achievement levels of students within the American school system were detailed (A Nation at Risk, 1983). In 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was created and signed into law (No Child Left Behind, 2002).

The No Child Left Behind Act is based on “four key principles which grants greater accountability and adaptability when using funds for schools, school districts and states; more freedom and power in selection of schools for disadvantaged parents; and greater options for teaching methodology, based on empirical research” (2002, p. 9). The aim of the NCLB Act was to create opportunities for all students to be successful, regardless of their academic background, ethnicity, or socio-economic status (No Child Left Behind, 2002; Yell&Drasgow, 2005). One intention behind the implementation of the NCLB Act was to increase state and local accountability, which therefore would ideally increase the equity of all subgroups on a national level by the school year 2013-2014.

The creation and implementation of the NCLB Act has generated both support and criticism of its effectiveness in decreasing the achievement gap between White students and ethnic minority students (Celeste&Stokes-Brown, 2009; Kim&Sunderman, 2005; Lee, 2002; Lee&Wong, 2004; Powers, 2004; Ravitch, 2009; Rothstein&Jacobsen, 2009; Schiller&Muller, 2003). Proponents of the law argue that the NCLB Act has been successful and has made a lasting effect in diminishing the achievement gap between White students and minority students (Weaver, 2006; Zavadsky, 2006). Researchers have documented the success of the NCLB Act and increased success of school districts across the nation (Jennings&Rentner, 2006; Miners, 2007; Mixed Reactions to NCLB, 2005; Packer, 2007; Zavadsky, 2006). Yet, critics have argued that the NCLB Act has been a burden to school districts, personnel, and students alike (Borkowski&Sneed, 2006; Frankenberg&Orfield, 2006; Jennings&Rentner, 2006; Lewis, 2007; Manzo&Hoff, 1997; Mixed Reactions to NCLB, 2005; Tyler, 2003; Zeus, 2007). Opponents of the NCLB Act, recognizing that test scores have increased, have commented that achievement is in relation to most schools’ focus on test taking skills (Guilfoyle, 2006; Popham, 2007; Smyth, 2008) rather than a legitimate increase in achievement.

Theoretical framework

Acquisition of language and literacy, specifically vocabulary, is the catalyst for future success and academic achievement in school (Kosmoski, Gay,&Vockell, 1990). The success of minority children in education stems from the knowledge and understanding of their family, community and societal influences (Tabors&Snow, 2001). To create academic achievement among students of minority backgrounds, educators must implement strategies that encourage family and communities to support educational success (Foster, 2004). To understand how to create educational success among minority students, an understanding of the dynamics within the community and culture must be demonstrated (Frankenburg, Lee,&Orfield, 2003). The understanding of culture and academic achievement has been conceptualized by Ogbu (1981) in the creation of the cultural-ecological (CE) theory.

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Source:  OpenStax, The achievement gap between white and non-white students. OpenStax CNX. Jan 10, 2012 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11402/1.4
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