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Achievement Gaps
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What are the Achievement Gaps?

  1. Achievement Gap in Race

What Are the Trends in the Race Achievement Gap?

The Center on Education Policy shows that while the achievement gap declined in the 1980s, it grew again in the 1990s.

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

Kober, N. (2001).It takes more than testing: Closing the achievement gap.Center on Education Policy. Retrieved April 4, 2002 from (Adobe® Reader® PDF).
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To see other reports that originated from this same citation, go to the bibliography.

In the Center on Education Policy’s report,It Takes More Than Testing: Closing the Achievement Gap, author Nancy Kober examined data from three sources to determine trends in the achievement gap. She points out that the SAT and ACT college entrance exams are one useful source of data, though somewhat limited in their applicability, since only about 42% of high school students took the SAT or the ACT in 1995.

Instead, Kober finds that the best source of data is the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The NAEP is a federally funded testing program that measures American students’ performance in various subjects, including math, science, and reading. While the NAEP does not provide individual scores for students, it does give a picture of nationwide and state-by-state trends.

What Are the Trends?

Relying primarily on NAEP data, Nancy Kober surveyed test score trends in the areas of math, science, reading, and college entrance exams.


Math scores have shown the biggest improvement in the achievement gap. Between 1973 and 1999, the black-white gap narrowed for children ages 9, 13, and 17. The greatest change was made between 1973 and 1986, when the gap decreased by 22 points on the NAEP scale.Kober says that this change is equal to about two grade levels. The gap between Hispanics and whites decreased only for ages 13 and 17.

Figure 1 displays the trends in the gap on NAEP math scores for white and Hispanic 13-year-olds. The graph shows that in 1999 the average NAEP score in math for whites was 24 points higher than the average score for Hispanics. Clearly, the gap narrowed in the 1980s, although it grew once again in the 1990s.

Figure 1. Historical Trend in the Gap between Average NAEP Reading Scores for Black and White 13-Year-Olds

The gap between black and white students decreased for students aged 9 and 13. The Hispanic-white gap has fluctuated but not changed significantly between 1977 and 1999.


Kober found that one of the most significant changes between black and white students occurred on the reading exam: the gap here decreased for all three age groups. For example, between 1971 and 1988, the gap between black and white 13-year-olds narrowed by21 points, equivalent to a gain of two grade levels for the average black student. For Hispanic students, however, the gap between their scores and those of whites decreased only at age 17.

Figure 2 displays the trends in the gap on NAEP reading scores for white and black 13-year-olds. Much as with the previous figure, the gap clearly narrowed in the 1980s, only to grow in the 1990s.

Figure 2. Historical Trend in the Gap between Average NAEP Math Scores for Hispanic and White 13-Year-Olds
College Entrance Exams

Based on her examination of SAT and ACT scores, Kober concluded that relatively little progress has been made in reducing the achievement gap in this area. In fact, the gap in SAT scores even increased after 1989. This increase comes despite the fact that black and Puerto Rican students’ scores have actually improved. The problem, though, is that white and Asian students’ scores have improved faster. Kober also notes that Hispanic students’ scores have actually fallen in this time period. For example, on the 2000 SAT, the black-white gap was89 points in the math and70 points in the verbal section. The Hispanic-white gap was80 points in math and70 points in verbal. Finally, the achievement gap between white and minority students on the ACT has remained largely the same over the past 10 years.

What Do the Trends Tell us?

Based on Kober’s examination of the data, two broader trends are evident in the achievement gap:

  1. Improvement. There has been some improvement in narrowing the gap, above all in the 1970s and 1980s. Most of the gains made by black and Hispanic students came during this time.
  2. Stagnation. The most recent NAEP data reveal that progress in remedying the gap has stalled. In some cases the gap has even widened once again. For instance, in 1999 the NAEP science score showed a black-white gap of41 points, equivalent to almost four grade levels. The gap between Hispanic and white students was34 points, or about three grade levels.

To put it in other terms, the average scores of black and Hispanic students at age 13 were lower than the average score of white students at age 9. Kober writes that in the 1996 NAEP science assessment, "4% of black 12th graders and 6% of Hispanic 12th graders scored at the Proficient level, compared with 24% of Whites and 19% of Asians" (p. 17).Similarly, Kober found that on the 1998 NAEP writing assessment, 8% of black 4th graders and 10% of Hispanic 4th graders scored Proficient, while 27% of whites and 32% of Asians did.

Research Design: The report surveys test score data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), as well as from the SAT and ACT college entrance exams. Policy suggestions are taken from studies of school districts in North Carolina, Texas, Michigan, Indiana, Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island.


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