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The Persistent Achievement Gap in New York City: A Summary

By Eduwonkette — July 29, 2008 1 min read
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Some readers asked me to put together a summary about the achievement gap in New York City:

1) Proficiency rates, or the percentage of students passing a test, are often used to measure achievement gaps. For example, if 90% of white students passed a test and 65% of black students did, some observers will say that the achievement gap is “25 points.”

2) Proficiency is a misleading and inaccurate way to measure achievement gaps. Primarily, the problem is that we cannot differentiate between students who just made it over the proficiency bar and those who scored well above it. Proficiency rates can increase substantially by moving a small number of kids up a few points - just enough to clear the cut score.
But black and Hispanic students may still lag far behind their peers even as their proficiency rates increase.

3) The most valid way to measure gaps between groups is to compare the test score distributions of the groups. What this means is that we compare average scale scores as well as differences between low-scoring white/Asian and Hispanic/black students (i.e. students scoring at the 10th percentile of their respective groups) and differences between high-scoring students (i.e. students scoring at the 90th percentile of their respective groups. In my posts last week, I focused on average scale scores - next, I’ll take a look at the whole distribution.

4) When we compare average NAEP scale scores over time, there is no change in the white-black and white-Hispanic achievement gap in NYC for any subject or grade level. (See reading and math.)

5) In grade 8, the black-Asian and Hispanic-Asian gaps have grown: The black-Asian and Hispanic-Asian gaps in reading, and the Hispanic-Asian gap in math, have grown substantially and these differences are statistically significant. The black-Asian gap in math has also grown, but the differences aren’t statistically significant.

6) The end result is that the average black and Hispanic student in New York City is as far behind - and in some cases, further behind - their white and Asian peers as they were five years ago.

In sum, we need an Educational Equality Project, indeed - but for black and Hispanic kids’ sake, let’s hope it’s not modeled off of New York City’s faux progress in closing the achievement gap.

The opinions expressed in eduwonkette are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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