Opportunity and Achievement — Shrinking the Two Gaps

By Karen Almachi

Photo by Jessica Hill


When taking a look at the existing disparities in education, the two main gaps that need to be addressed are the achievement gap and the opportunity gap. Understanding the distinction between these two gaps is essential because it allows us to know where changes need to be made in order truly to make an impact for marginalized students.


The wide gap in academic performance between students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds has been steadily diminishing within the past decades, but significant disparities still exist and are reflected in performance scores. With the ongoing pandemic, the academic achievement gap is not disappearing anytime soon.


The achievement gap specifically focuses on the disparity in academic achievement between groups of students. Success measures, such as grades, SAT scores, ACT scores, college graduation rates, dropout rates, and more, highlight the gap in academic performance between students from different racial backgrounds.


The opportunity gap takes a look at the external factors that cannot be controlled by the individual, such as race/ethnic identity, gender, or socioeconomic status. These external factors contribute to the issue of inequality where individuals struggle to have access to the same resources and opportunities as others. As a result, these factors can either negatively or positively impact a student’s academic achievement.

The opportunity gap is about the lack of equal chance, resources, and opportunity between groups of individuals as a result of their backgrounds while the achievement gap is about the concerning academic disparity between groups of individuals.


Without the proper resources and opportunities, the achievement gap will only continue to grow and affect the learning of children. Whether it is factors such as race, socioeconomics, or other aspects, the lack of opportunities stemming from these factors greatly contributes to the achievement gap where marginalized students are struggling to keep up with their counterparts who are in more favorable circumstances. Marginalized individuals face many obstacles when they do not have access to the same opportunities as other individuals who are more privileged. This results in creating situations and environments inadequate for students to learn and thrive.


To improve the learning and knowledge retained by children in schools, it is essential to understand the ways in which the opportunity gap is enabling the achievement gap. Without equal access to resources, it only adds to the number of barriers that marginalized students need to overcome to accomplish the same level of success. It is the opportunity gap that limits the potential of marginalized individuals, especially students. Marginalized students are at the lower end of this gap where they are put at a disadvantage at a very young age.


At Effective to Great Education, the technology being developed is centered around social-emotional learning (SEL) tools that will be implemented in schools in order to create education equity and social impact. The emphasis on SEL is a step towards bringing equality to students who have been restricted from having access to tools that will help build learning environments best suited for marginalized students. It is a step closer to closing the opportunity gap, which has been holding back so many students from reaching their fullest potential. The achievement gap cannot continue to shrink unless the opportunity gap is handled as well.