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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 Reading Scores: A Racial Comparison

The National Assessment of Educational Progress has mapped long-term trends in U.S. student reading. According to their 1999 long-term trends report, there are some important differences in the scores of white, black, and Hispanic students.

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 do U.S. students of different races compare on their reading scores? How has this comparison changed over time?

Beginning in 1969, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has carried out periodic evaluations of what 9-, 13-, and 17-year-old students know in the area of reading.

The long-term assessments are carried out so that they can compare U.S. students across time, and across different subgroups, like race and gender.

Comparing Long-Term Trends of Students of Different Races

How have U.S. students' reading scores changed over time? Figures 1-3 present the trends in NAEP reading scores for white, black, and Hispanic students over the past thirty years.

Figure 1. Changes in NAEP Reading Scores by Race for 9-Year-Olds

Figure 1 shows that while all groups of 9-year-olds increased their scores into the early 1980s, black 9-year-olds made the most progress during this period. Figure 1 also makes clear that white 9-year-olds have consistently scored higher than both black and Hispanic 9-year-olds.

Figure 2. Changes in NAEP Reading Scores by Race for 13-Year-Olds

As with 9-year-olds, white 13-year-olds score consistently higher on the NAEP across all testing periods. As with 9-year-olds, black 13-year-olds make significant progress until the late 1980s, when their scores begin to flatten out.

Figure 3. Changes in NAEP Reading Scores by Race for 17-Year-Olds

The NAEP reading scores for 17-year-olds shows a similar trend as 9-year-olds and 13-year-olds. White scores are always higher, and the progress that black and Hispanic students make continues until the late 1980s.

Mapping the Achievement Gap in Reading

Over the time that the NAEP has been assessing U.S. students' reading scores, black and Hispanic students have scored, on the whole, lower than white students. However, this difference has not remained constant over time. Figures 4 and 5 present the difference between the white student average score and the black and Hispanic student average scores, respectively.

Figure 4. Difference in NAEP Reading Scores of White and Black Students

Figure 4 shows a dramatic drop in the gap between black and white students' scores, especially among 13- and 17-year-olds until the late 1980s. The gap begins to increase after that.

Figure 5. Difference in NAEP Reading Scores of White and Hispanic Students

The pattern in the relationship between white and Hispanic students' scores are not as dramatic as the pattern between white and black students' scores. Except for a slight decline in the white-Hispanic reading score gap in the 1970s, the gap appears to have remained fairly consistent since the 1980s.

While the NAEP reading scores of white students are consistently higher than black or Hispanic students, the scores of Hispanic and Black students are not consistent relative to each other. If we subtract black students' scores from Hispanic students' scores, we see that the differences between the two scores fluctuate around zero (no difference) across the time period measured.

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


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