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Achievement gap between black and white students in the United States

Two previous articles on this site presented data on disparities in school attendance by ethnicity, language or religion from 17 nationally representative household surveys. Net attendance rates among the least disadvantaged groups are up to 1.7 times higher than net attendance rates among the most disadvantaged groups at the primary level of education and up to 6 times higher at the secondary level of education.

Similar gaps in access to education and in student achievement exist in the United States. The National Center for Education Statistics has published the most recent findings of its National Assessment of Educational Progress, a long term study of student achievement, in the report NAEP 2008 Trends in Academic Progress. The results of the periodic assessments by the NCES demonstrate a persistent achievement gap between black and white students.

Figure 1 summarizes the results of 12 reading assessments over the period 1971 to 2008. For each assessment, the average reading scores of black and white students aged 9, 13 and 17 years are plotted in the graph. The shaded area indicates the achievement gap between black and white students. For 2004, two scores are shown for each group because the assessment format was revised in that year. The reading scores in 1971 and 2008 are also listed in Table 1.

Figure 1: Average reading scores of black and white students, 1971-2008
Trendlines with reading scores of black and white students in the United States between 1971 and 2008
Data source: NAEP 2008 Trends in Academic Progress, p. 14-15.

Black and white students of all ages achieved higher reading scores in 2008 than in previous years. In 1971, 9-year-old white students had an average score of 214 and black students in the same age group scored 170 on average. In 2008, the average score of 9-year-olds was 228 for white students and 204 for black students. As a result, the score gap between black and white 9-year-olds fell from 44 in 1971 to 24 in 2008. For 13-year-old students the score gap fell from 39 to 21 over the same period and for 17-year-olds it fell from 52 to 29.

Closer inspection of the data reveals that most of this reduction in the achievement gap occurred during the 1970s and 1980s. Since the 1990s, the gap between black and white students has remained relatively stable. Although the reading scores of black students continue to improve, they no longer grow fast enough to close the gap with white students.

Table 1: Average reading scores of black and white students, 1971 and 2008
Year Age Average reading score Score gap
Black White
1971 9 years 170 214 44
2008 9 years 204 228 24
1971 13 years 222 261 39
2008 13 years 247 268 21
1971 17 years 239 291 52
2008 17 years 266 295 29
Data source: NAEP 2008 Trends in Academic Progress, p. 14-15.

The NAEP report shows a similar achievement gap between black and white students in the area of mathematics. In addition, there is a similar but smaller gap between white and Hispanic students in reading and mathematics. In spite of long-running efforts to improve the education system for all parts of the population, minority students consistently lag behind white students in the United States.

Reference
  • Rampey, Bobby D., Gloria S. Dion, and Patricia L. Donahue. 2009. NAEP 2008 Trends in Academic Progress. Washington: National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. (Download PDF file, 1.1 MB)
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External links
Friedrich Huebler, 9 May 2009, Creative Commons License
Permanent URL: http://huebler.blogspot.com/2009/05/usa.html

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