Achievement Gaps

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**What are the Achievement Gaps?**

A government study of elementary and secondary students finds that blacks have lower math and reading scores than whites at every grade level, even among blacks who had the same test scores as whites just a year or two earlier. This leaves blacks at a disadvantage as they prepare for college or the job market.

Citation:

This reports some of the ideas and findings from the following source:

National Center for Education Statistics (2001).Educational achievement and black-white inequality.U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved August 28, 2002 fromhttp://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2001061. Pp. 31-43

To see other reports that originated from this same citation, go to the bibliography.

Blacks still achieve less in school on average than whites despite some gains in recent years. A report by the National Center for Educational Statistics uses four samples of children from elementary and secondary schools to determine whether the black-white gap in educational achievement is the result of differences in students' environments, including their homes, neighborhoods, and schools.

Educational achievement is measured by math and reading achievement test scores in elementary and secondary school. These scores are converted to 8th grade standard deviation units (SDUs)to allow comparison across samples and grades. Thus, an average test score below zero means achievement levels less than the average 8th grader.

Blacks scored significantly lower than whites on mathematics tests in both elementary and secondary schools (see Figure 1). Assuming that student characteristics and achievement tests are similar across samples, Figure 1 shows a narrowing of the black-white achievement gap in elementary school and a widening of the gap by high school (back to its grade 2 level).

Figure 1 also shows a significant but smaller gap for blacks who had math achievement scores similar to whites just a year or two earlier. Holding education constant reduced the black-white achievement gap by 70% in the 2nd and 5th grades and 60% in the 9th grade. The remaining gap for 12th graders is statistically insignificant.

The report says that black children scored lower on reading tests than white children at every grade level studied (see Figure 2). Assuming similar student populations and tests across samples, Figure 2 shows a reduction of the reading gap in elementary school (by about one-third) and little change during high school.

Figure 2 also shows a significant but smaller achievement gap for blacks with reading test scores similar to whites a year or two earlier. Holding education constant reduced the black-white reading gap by 60% in the 2nd, 5th, and 9th grades and by 75% in the 12th grade.

The report says that blacks have lower math and reading scores than whites at every grade level, even among blacks who had the same test scores as whites just a year or two earlier. Controlling for parental socioeconomic status and census region as well had little effect on these results.

Possible explanations include unobserved differences in family background as well as differences in peer groups, school resources, and classroom experiences, the report concludes.

"Whatever the causes of black-white gaps in educational achievement, the perpetuation of a large portion of these gaps throughout elementary and secondary school leaves blacks at a relative disadvantage as they prepare for college and/or the labor market" (p. 42).

**Research Design:**

The authors of this report include Cara Olsen, Jennifer King Rice, and Stephen Sweetland of Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., and John Ralph of the National Center for Education Statistics.

The analyses of educational and labor market outcomes used four sets of data (with standard errors adjusted for complex survey designs and multiple imputation used to account for missing data), including the following:

- National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972 (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics). This sample looked at high school seniors seven years later.
- National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1983-1989 (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics). This sample looked at high school students who were seniors between 1976 and 1982sevenyears later.
- National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1986-1992 (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics). This sample looked at students who were high school sophomores between 1974 and 1980twelve years later.
- High School and Beyond, 1992. This sample looked at students who were high school sophomores in 1980twelve years later.

The analyses of educational achievement outcomes (with math and reading achievement test scores converted to 8th-grade standard deviation units) focused on four samples of children, including:

- Cohort 1 of the Chapter 1 Prospects Study, which observed children between grades 1 and 2 from 1992 to 1993.
- Cohort 3 of the Prospects Study, which observed children between grades 3 and 5 from 1991 to 1993.
- Cohort 7 of the Prospects Study, which observed children between grades 7 and 9 from 1991 to 1993.
- National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1998, which observed children between grades 10 and 12 from 1990 to 1992.

Statistical analysis was performed for each set of data to
compare (mean) differences between blacks and whites, to
compare differences holding educational achievement
constant, and to compare differences holding multiple
characteristics (educational achievement, work experience,
parental socioeconomic status, and Census region)
constant. Tests of significance were conducted at
the *p*= 0.05 level.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting, analyzing, and reporting data related to education in the United States and other nations.

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