What are the Achievement Gaps?
National data on achievement gap trends among white and non-white students can mask differences in trends among states. A researcher examines differences in state achievement gap patterns.
This reports some of the ideas and findings from the following source:
Lee, J. (1998). State policy correlates of the achievement gap among racial and social groups.Studies in Educational Evaluation, 24,137-152.
To see other reports that originated from this same citation, go to the bibliography.
Formulating state policies to address the achievement gap in schools is a very tricky business, says scholar Jaekyung Lee.
Lee notes that all states have instituted some kind of education reform over the past decade. How have these reforms made an impact on the achievement gap? Lee says that the results are mixed.
In his study, Lee systematically analyzes how the achievement gap among different racial and social groups varies across different states. He also looks at how standards-raising efforts are related to student outcomes.
Lee emphasizes the importance of understanding how the achievement gap operates at different levels. He makes a distinction between achievement gaps that occur within schools and achievement gaps that occur between schools. He notes that previous research finds racial and social gaps at both levels.
Lee is concerned in this analysis with two kinds of achievement gaps:
Drawing on these two distinctions, Lee says that research on mathematics achievement identifies the following gaps.
Differences in math achievement exist between white and minority students at the same school.
Differences in math achievement exist between students of different socioeconomic status (SES) within the same school.
When comparing predominantly white and predominantly minority schools, substantial disparity in math achievement is evident.
When comparing high-SES and low-SES schools, a difference in average math achievement also exists.
Lee argues that it is important to make the distinction between within-school and between-school gaps, since different causes may be working at different levels. At the within-school level, student and classroom differences come to bear on the achievement gap. At the between-school level, differences in resources and school structure and curriculum may also help bring about different average levels of student achievement.
Lee does not leave the analysis there. He adds another level of analysis. If we want to understand how state policy might affect differences in student achievement, we must also be able to distinguish state-level effects from within-school and between-school effects.
By comparing different statistical models, Lee seeks to tease out the different "proportion" of the achievement gap that within-school, between-school, and state-level influences might explain. He uses data on 4th and 8th graders from the 1992 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Trial State Assessment.
Partitioning the effects on achievement gap between these different levels, Lee finds that student-level and school-level effects explain most of the variation between student math achievement scores. See Figure 1.
Figure 1 not only demonstrated that most of the influence on student math scores comes from student-level and school-level effects, but also that the makeup of these effects appears to change somewhat as students age. Lee estimates the achievement gap averages for40 states in terms of both race and SES and within-school and between-school effects.
Lee finds that the within-school SES gap grows substantially between 4th and 8th graders (from an average of 33.41 points in 4th grade to 49.15 points in 8th grade). That is, among students at the same school, differences in economic level becomes a stronger predictor of differences in math achievement. In contrast, within- and between-school racial differences remain relatively unchanged between 4th and 8th grade. Lee also notes that the between-school SES gap also drops slightly between 4th and 8th grade. See Figure 2.
What does this mean? Even though the differences in math scores of students at richer and poorer schools are large, these differences do not change much over time. What changes is the differences between richer and poorer students at the same school. Poorer 8th grade students do worse in math (relative to their richer peers at the same school) than poorer 4th grade students.
With respect to race, Lee finds that there is more difference in math scores between predominantly white and predominantly minority schools than there is between white and minority students at the same school. He also finds that these differences do not change much between 4th and 8th grade.
Lee then explores how the four different dimensions in his analysis are related to each other. He makes the following conclusions:
We see that there is a difference between student math achievement when we take into account race and SES and consider the differences within and between schools. But, how do higher- and lower-performing states compare across these differences? In other words, is there any relationship between state math achievement and the achievement among racial and social groups?
Lee points out two main findings from his analysis comparing higher and lower performing states:
Looking specifically at states actively involved in reform efforts, Lee makes draws three main conclusions from his analysis:
What does all this mean for state policies?
Lee says the achievement gap inactive reform states is likely to be relatively smaller between high-SES and low-SES students as children move from the 4th to the 8th grade.
Lee also says that active reform states are likely to see just the opposite pattern with regard to the racial achievement gap. More-active states are likely to see larger achievement gaps for race as students get older.
In this regard, says Lee, ". . . standards-raising state policies face the challenge to meet the needs of culturally diverse minority students" (p.147).
How are state policies associated with racial and social-achievement gap patterns?
How are within-school and between-school achievement gap patterns related?
Lee draws on data sources from the 1992 National Assessment of Educational Progress Trial State Assessment. He focuses on mathematics achievement for 4th and 8th graders. This provided the following number of subjects:
State policy measures were constructed from the 1984&1985 state policy survey data, measuring state responses to 26 separate policies.
Lee used hierarchical linear modeling to tease out student-level, school-level, and state-level effects. Student composite score on the total NAEP mathematics assessment was treated as the dependent variable.
To calculate policy and state ranking, Lee calculated the probability of that a given state would enact a certain policy.
Supported by a grant from the American Educational Research Association and the National Center for Education Statistics.
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