Learning Gap


Closely related to achievement gap and opportunity gap, a learning gap is the difference between what a student has learned—i.e., the academic progress he or she has made—and what the student was expected to learn at a certain point in his or her education, such as a particular age or grade level. A learning gap can be relatively minor—the failure to acquire a specific skill or meet a particular learning standard, for example—or it can be significant and educationally consequential, as in the case of students who have missed large amounts of schooling (for a more detailed discussion, see learning loss).

Generally speaking, learning gap refers to the relative performance of individual students—i.e., the disparity between what a student has actually learned and what he or she was expected to learn at a particular age or grade level. Achievement gap refers to outputs—the unequal or inequitable distribution of educational results and benefits—while opportunity gap refers to inputs—the unequal or inequitable distribution of resources and opportunities.

One of the more consequential features of learning gaps is their tendency, if left unaddressed, to compound over time and become more severe and pronounced, which can increase the chances that a student will struggle academically and socially or drop out of school. In addition, if foundational academic skills—such as reading, writing, and math, as well as social and interpersonal skills—are not acquired by students early on in their education, it may be more difficult for them to learn these foundational skills later on. As students progress through their education, remediating learning gaps tends can become more difficult because students may have fallen well behind their peers, or because middle school or high school teachers may not have specialized training or expertise in teaching foundational academic skills. For these and other reasons, many educators, school reformers, researchers, and policy makers have called for greater investments in early childhood education, including universal access to prekindergarten programs.