Getting at the Causes for NAEP Achievement Gaps

By Debra Viadero — May 01, 2009 1 min read
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In his take on the results released earlier this week from the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests in reading and mathematics, the NYT’s Sam Dillon emphasizes the fact that the test-score gaps separating poor and minority students from their higher-achieving white and better-off counterparts have not budged over the last four to five years.

Now a new report from the Educational Testing Service explores some of the many possible reasons why. Parsing the Achievement Gap II is a follow-up to a 2003 study that lays out the racial and ethnic fault lines for 14 different indicators that have been linked to academic achievement. Its basic conclusion: While the nation has made some progress in narrowing disparities among students of different racial, ethnic, and income groups, not much has changed, for the most part, since 2003.

I know. That may not exactly be news.

But the new report, which expands the original number of indicators to 16, includes some illuminating statistics. Did you know, for instance, that in 2007 more than half of African-American 8th graders, compared with a fifth of white 8th graders, had a teacher who left before the end of the school year? Among students poor enough to qualify for federal free-lunch programs, two-thirds had teachers who failed to finish out that year.

That’s sobering. My two children attend, or graduated from, middle-class public high schools. In all their years of schooling, I can only recall two instances in which one of their teachers failed to make it to the finish line—one because of a terminal illness and another due to maternity leave.

If you couple those statistics with the disproportionately high mobility rates that the report documents among poor and minority families, it adds up to a lot of disrupted schooling.

One bright spot the report notes, however, is that increasing numbers of students of all racial, ethnic, and income groups are taking on more advanced coursework in high school. (For an interesting analysis on how that trend has contributed—or not contributed—to longtern NAEP results see my colleague Sean Cavanagh’s post in the Curriculum Matters blog.) Yet, by the same token, black students remain badly underrepresented among those students who go on to take Advanced Placement exams.

Check out the full report for yourself here.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.

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