The Academic Excellence Initiative is a three-year collaborative project at UW–Madison. This initiative, formerly known as the Bridging the Achievement Gap Project, is designed to take a systematic, Teaching-as-Research-based approach toward addressing the academic achievement gap that separates under-represented minority, 1st generation in college, and low socio-economic status undergraduate students from their peers, particularly in large courses that serve as gateways to various majors.
The Academic Excellence Initiative addresses the achievement gap in a way that mirrors action-oriented research. Participants start by learning about and discussing information about diversity and the achievement gap from scholarly literature, campus reports, and presentations in a semester-long course (these are special achievement gap-focused sections of Delta's Diversity in the College Classroom course for graduate students/post docs and Creating a Collaborative Learning Environment facilitated discussion group for faculty/staff).
The program also offers opportunities for guided project development as well as collaboration between the two groups. The following semester, the plans that were developed to address the achievement gap are implemented and evaluated by the student/instructor teams.This work serves as the basis for the student's Delta Internship Project.
The Academic Excellence Initiative team recognizes and strives to address the negative connotations that the language of the "Achievement Gap" may bring to mind. First, "achievement" focuses exclusively on the individual student, omitting the classroom and institutional context of the student. Equally important, "gap" puts forth majority (white) students as the standard for the individual achievement goal. This could be interpreted as reinforcing a racial or cultural hierarchy that puts the burden on the individual student rather than acknowledging it as a societal and/or institutional issue.
The actual work that we do in the Academic Excellence Initiative is quite contrary to these regressive undertones. Most of the classroom projects that emerge from our work investigate factors in students' classroom contexts that contribute to lower grades (e.g., style of teaching, advising, enforcement of course prerequisites or access to resources). Our project asks how faculty, staff, and other institutional actors can more equitably serve underrepresented students and create inclusive classroom environments that are more conducive to the success of all students on campus.
For more literature on this perspective, please see the following:
Hilliard, A.G. (2012) "No Mystery: Closing the Achievement Gap between Africans and Excellence" in Young, Gifted, and Black: Promoting High Achievement among African American Students, by Theresa Perry and Clause Steele. Boston, MA: Beacon Press
Ladson-Billings, G. (2006) "From the Achievement Gap to the Education Debt: Understanding Achievement in U.S. Schools." Educational Researcher 35(7): 3-12
Royal, C. (2012) "Please Stop Using the Phrase 'Achievement Gap'." Good. Available online: http://www.good.is/posts/please-stop-using-the-phrase-achievement-gap
The Delta Program, and the Provost's Office and is in collaboration with the Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate, the College of Letters and Science, and the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning.