Student academic achievement, as measured by competency scoring on standardized tests, grade point averages or other educational indicators, such as dropout rates, has been the paramount definition of school success, especially since the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act which places a great deal of emphasis on student and school progress.  Student achievement for the highest risk students – those who face poverty, hunger, homelessness, or family disruption – is not always captured by standardized test scores.

The term “achievement gap” refers to observed disparity between the performance levels of differing groups of students, especially groups defined by gender, race and ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.  Nationally, one of the greatest measured educational inequities exists between low-income Black and Latino students and their well-off white and Asian counterparts, a trend that has been documented since the 1970s.

Narrowing an achievement gap is a challenge for schools and school districts.  Student factors are thought to account for 75 to 80 percent of the effect on student achievement, leaving teachers and administrators without strategies to easily alleviate gaps in learning.1 Character development, mentoring relationships, and community-level initiatives to relieve socioeconomic inequities are thought to be viable methods of change.


The states of both Missouri and Illinois contain a wide range of student demographics.  Both contain vast rural areas, with students from a range of socioeconomic background.  Missouri’s “boot heel,” located in the southeast portion of the state, contains the greatest concentration of rural poverty in the state.  Both Illinois and Missouri have large urban cities, each of these with concentrated areas of urban poverty.  Chicago has a larger immigrant and refugee population than areas of the St. Louis metro area or Kansas City, MO.

In Missouri

Between 2004 and 2007, a Missouri initiative called Project Success: Close the Gap Consortium was formed by a combination of MO DESE, OSEDA at the University of Missouri, and Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL).  The intended outcome of the consortium was to significantly improve student performance in all participating schools.

DESE has continued the work of the consortium with a work group called the Missouri Model for Measuring Teacher/Leader Effect.  This coming year Missouri DESE will consider the adoption of The Common Core State Standards being developed nationally.  The standards establish clear and consistent goals for learning that aim to prepare US children for success in college and in the workforce.  See MO DESE News Release.

Two recently released studies on over 100 Missouri schools show a positive correlation between character development and improved student achievement.  The studies suggest the integration of character education into the school community, with the hopes of improving student achievement, discipline and improving school-parent relations.  Please see the CSD website for more details.

1Missouri Youth Initiative. (November, 2007). The Academic Achievement Gap: Where is the Sense of Urgency?  Step by Step. Vol(17), No(4).