A correlation between the Achievement Gap and Adverse Childhood Experiences

What exactly is an achievement gap?

The term “achievement gap” refers to disparities in the academic achievement of specific groups of students (Coleman et al., 1966). The achievement gap now measures four years: by the end of high school, African American and Latino students have skills in literacy (reading) and numeracy (mathematics) that are virtually identical to those of White students at the end of middle school (Lyman & Villani, 2004; Scherer, 2002-2003).

 What about the Achievement Gap once school years are over?

The achievement gap exists during school years, but when the school years are over the achievement gap becomes an opportunity gap. In other words, students become adults. In many cases, adults who will not be able to pay for everyday essentials such as food, purchase a home, have access to health, vision, or dental insurance.  The achievement gap can very well impact one’s life time earnings. Lower life time earnings can have a direct impact on where people live and what kids are exposed to as they grow up. Lower life time earnings can very well impact one’s credit score and put up barriers that prevent home ownership and sometimes prevent the opportunity to rent. Consequently, most are forced to live in low credit score neighborhoods. Low credit score neighborhoods can breed a host of negative exposures such as violence and childhood stressors. Low score neighborhoods are inundated with liquor stores, cigarette ads, and corner stores that sell nothing but unhealthy processed food. All of these factors add to negative childhood experiences.

Definition of Adverse Childhood Experiences/Trauma 

Psychological trauma is the unique individual experience of an event or enduring conditions, in which: The individual experiences (subjectively) an existential threat to life, bodily integrity, or sanity, such that the individual’s ability to integrate his/her emotional experience is overwhelmed. (Saakvitne, 1995). Reactions to Traumatic Stress are as follow:  (Cormier, 2012 at NABSE Conference)

  • Re-experiencing symptoms: intrusive memories, nightmares, flashbacks, re-living, dissociating, high reactivity to reminders
  • Arousal symptoms: Hypervigilance, hyperarousal (heightened emotional experiencing and slow return to baseline), feeling edgy, difficulty falling asleep, midnight or early morning awakenings, heightened irritability and aggression (Cormier, 2012 NABSE)
  • Avoiding symptoms: refusal to talk about event, avoiding traumatic reminders, social withdrawal, detachment, numbing (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition).
  • The person experiencing traumatic stress never gets a break from it. They feel as though they are always “on.”
  • The combination of always being on, of re-experiencing and of trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid re-experiencing contribute to the person’s feeling as though they are coming apart or going crazy(Cormier, 2012 NABSE Conference).
  • To others, the person’s inability to control their emotions, withdrawal from normal social interchange, and active distrust of everything, make that person very difficult to engage. Thus, the very people who could become a source of support become a source of antagonism (Cormier, 2012 NABSE conference Nashville, Tennessee)
  • This combination of the inability to regulate emotions, the inability to trust others and the inability to attend to the present moment is quite destructive of the kind of executive and integrative functioning necessary for academic success.

When students come up in high violence areas they are more than not exposed to adverse childhood experiences. Adverse Childhood experiences such as drugs, child abuse, sexual abuse, incarceration of love ones, drug use by caretakers, and gun violence. When a child is habitually exposed to these kind of stressors, they can become traumatized prior to entering kindergarten. This traumatization has a colossal impact on the child’s behavior and the ability to learn.  Some researchers would say the child is dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The same PTSD soldiers experience due to combat from serving in the military during wartime.  Researchers admit the PTSD suffered by students never turns off. As a result, all adults such as the school system should be in the know and have established a plan that effectively addresses the trauma or unwanted behavior.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (Presented by Matthew A. Munich, PhD, LCSW Trauma Clinician Family Service of Rhode Island, 2012 at NABSE Conference Nashville, Tennessee)

  • A study commissioned by Kaiser Permanente involving 17,000 patients surveyed by their primary care physician to make a connection between health outcomes and “Adverse Child Events” (A.C.E.). 12,000 patients responded. These were people who were predominately middle to upper middle class Caucasian. 74% had attended college, with an average age of 57.
  • Responders were given 1 point for every childhood adverse experience: physical, emotional or sexual abuse, absent or addicted caregiver, parental divorce, domestic violence, mentally ill caregiver.

ACE SCORE

  • Score of 4 or higher: twice as likely to smoke, seven times as likely to become alcoholics, six times as likely to have had sex before 15.
  • 4 or higher: One is twice as likely to have cancer, twice as likely to have heart disease, and four times as likely to suffer from emphysema or chronic bronchitis. 12 times as likely to have attempted suicide than those with an ACE score of 0.
  • Men with an ACE score of 6 or higher were 46 times as likely to have injected drugs than men who had no history of ACEs (acestudy.org; Tough, 2011).

Nadine Burke & The ACE Study

  • Bayview Health Clinic, a San Francisco public health clinic, Nadine Burke administers a modified version of the ACE study questionnaire to her patients at every yearly exam. This time, the median age was 7, rather than 57.  700 patients were surveyed.
  • 69% had an ACE score of 1.  12% have an ace of 4 or higher.
  • In addition to health outcomes being more negative already for this population, Burke saw a correlation between children’s ACE score and school performance.
  • The conclusion being drawn from this is that the glucocorticoids that flood the young brain as a result of adverse childhood events adversely affect its normal development. These findings mirror studies from the late 60s and early 70s  led to the great literacy movement, with government programs like Head Start.  (Tough, 2011)

As the author of this article, my purpose is to provide information that is beneficial for teachers, districts, families and most of all the information is helpful for improving students’ quality of life both academically and socially.  It is essential for all educators to understand their students’ life experiences. By doing so, immensely improves the opportunity for students to be successful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.