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Achievement Gaps
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What are the Achievement Gaps?

  1. Achievement Gap in Race

Long-Term Trends in U.S. Student Math Scores: A Racial Comparison

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tracked U.S. students' knowledge of mathematics since the early 1970s. By examining the performance of different subgroups, the NAEP gives us a way to compare the mathematics achievement of students of different races.

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

National Assessment of Educational Progress (1999).Long term trend assessment.U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved March 29, 2002 from

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

How has the mathematics knowledge of U.S. students changed over the past30 years? How does the performance of students of different races compare on the NAEP tests?

The NAEP began assessing U.S. students' science knowledge in the early 1970s. Since that time they have periodically tested students to track how their mathematics knowledge has changed over time. By drawing on samples of U.S. students at ages 9, 13, and 17, the NAEP is able to compare the performance of different subgroups of U.S. students, for instance, gender and race.

Comparing Students of Different Races in Terms of Mathematics Knowledge

Over the past30 years, the NAEP has tracked the math knowledge of 9-, 13-, and 17-year-old students. Figures 1-3 present black, Hispanic, and white students' performance on the NAEP assessment over this time period.

Figure 1. NAEP Math Score Trends by Race of 9-Year-Old U.S. Students

Figure 1 shows that white math scores were consistently higher than black or Hispanic students' scores for the entire period.

Figure 2. NAEP Math Score Trends by Race of 13-Year-Old U.S. Students

Figure 2 shows that while the math scores for white 13-year-olds was higher than the scores of black or Hispanic students, black and Hispanic students made greater gains in math than white students into the 1980s.

Figure 3. NAEP Math Score Trends by Race of 17-Year-Old U.S. Students

As with 13-year-olds, black and Hispanic students made significant math score gains relative to white students until the late 1980s. After that time, black and Hispanic scores began to flatten out while white scores continued to increase.

Mapping the Achievement Gap

By comparing the scores of black and Hispanic students with white students, we can see how the mathematics achievement gap has changed over the past30 years.

Figure 4. Gap in NAEP Math Scores for White and Black U.S. Students

Figure 4 shows that the math achievement gap between black and white students decreased until the late 1980s when the gap stabilized or increased.

Figure 5. Gap in NAEP Math Scores for White and Hispanic U.S. Students

The white-Hispanic math achievement gap shows no clear trend.

Figures 4 and 5 show that the NAEP math scores of white students are consistently higher than black or Hispanic students. However, Figure 6 shows that, except for two instances, the scores of Hispanic students are also consistently higher than the math scores of black students. If we subtract black students' scores from Hispanic students' scores, we see that the differences between the two scores hovers just above zero (no difference) across the time period measured.

Figure 6. Difference in NAEP Math Scores of Hispanic and Black Students


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