Blog: The Educated Reporter

Government Report Suggests Racial Achievement Gap Narrowing

A new national study conducted by the federal government shows the achievement gap between white students and minorities has narrowed among nine and 13 year-olds since the 1970s, yet has remained mostly flat among 17 year-olds.

Released by the makers of the gold standard of student assessments, National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), the newly published findings are part of an ongoing study that measure students’ understanding of mathematics and reading.

Below is a sampling of the press coverage.

Washington Post: “The scores, collected regularly since the 1970s from federal tests administered to public and private school students age 9, 13, and 17, paint a picture of steady student achievement that contradicts the popular notion that U.S. educational progress has stalled.”

Huffington Post: “On average, 9-year-olds’ scores increased from 208 to 221, or 13 points, on the reading exam between 1971 and 2011-2012. With a score of 221, students are expected to “make an inference based on explicit information in a biographical sketch,” but likely can’t do things like find similarities between two characters or identify a paragraph’s main topic, the report says. Thirteen-year-olds’ scores increased by eight points, from 255 to 263, a level which means they cannot “support an opinion about a story using details.” Seventeen-year-olds only grew 2 points over that period, scoring a 287, a level at which they can “use understanding of a poem to recognize” the poem’s speaker but not explain key parts of the poem’s topic.”

Reuters: “’Peggy Carr, a federal education analyst, said the flat trendline among older students was actually good news.
“’More 17-year-olds with shaky academic records are staying in school rather than dropping out, which makes them eligible to take the NAEP exams, she said. Given this influx of lower-performing students into the testing pool, “it’s a good thing that are not going down,’ said Carr, an associate commissioner with the National Center for Education Statistics.’”

Education Week: “Meanwhile, even as the historical trend suggests a narrowing of the achievement gaps for black and Hispanic students relative to their non-Hispanic white peers, those gaps have seen little movement since 2008, when the long-term exams were last administered. There were no statistically significant changes in the black-white achievement gap across all three age ranges in both reading and math. For Hispanic students, the only instance of a statistically significant narrowing of the gap was seen with 13-year-olds in math.”

USA Today: “The Washington, D.C.-based Education Trust, an advocacy group for low-income and minority students, said the new findings “put to rest any notion that our schools are getting worse.” But the group said that American education isn’t moving fast enough to improve skills — especially for Hispanic students, who already make up the majority of students in Texas public schools, according to the Texas Education Agency. By the end of the decade, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that more than half of Americans under 18 will belong to a racial or ethnic minority group.”

U.S. News & World Report: “Brent Houston, who serves on the National Assessment Governing Board that conducted the study, said in a released statement that the data collected for the report also include parents’ level of education, which shows an increasing number of whom have graduated from college. This emphasis on education, he said, should translate into better performance for their children. But still, the average scores of 17-year-olds have stayed flat.

“‘If parents are achieving more, you’d think that older students in particular would be achieving at higher levels,’ he said in the statement.”