AIR Prepared Report on Black-White Achievement Gap for National Center for Education Statistics

Washington, D.C. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has released a report, prepared by staff from the American Institutes for Research (AIR), which analyzes Black-White achievement gaps at both the national and state levels, using National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores as a common yardstick.

The study, Achievement Gaps: How Black and White Students in Public Schools Perform in Mathematics and Reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, examines data from all “main NAEP” mathematics and reading assessments through 2007, supplemented by data from long-term trend NAEP results through 2004. The report provides context for understanding the national- and state-level Black-White achievement gaps, by examining both changes in the performance of Black and White students and changes in the Black-White gap over time.

The new report expands upon discussions of national achievement gaps in previous NCES reports by providing trend data for each of the states for which reliable data are available, for both mathematics and reading in grades 4 and 8. The report offers comparisons for statistical significance for the scores of both Black and White students, as well as comparisons for the size of the gap between them. A separate analysis compares the state gaps in 2007 with the national gap, again for both subjects and grades.

The report found that since the early 1990s there has been at least a 26-point national gap in the performance of Black and White students at grades 4 and 8, using NAEP’s 0-500 point scale in both mathematics and reading.

Other key study findings include:

  • In mathematics, scores for both Black and White students have increased at both grades since the early 1990s: Of the states for which complete data were available, 35 of 35 states showed increases at grade 4 math, and 26 of 28 showed increases at grade 8 math. In grade 4 math, the Black-White gap narrowed in 15 of the 35 states, but at grade 8, few states showed a narrower gap.
  • In reading, scores for both Black and White students have increased at grade 4 in 13 of 34 states, but at grade 8, only one state (Delaware) showed an increase for both Black and White students. Few states showed a narrower Black-White gap in reading at either grade.
  • Gap size at the state level is not simply a function of student performance. In high-performing states, gaps can be larger than the national average (e.g., in Maryland and Massachusetts) or smaller (e.g., Texas). Gaps can also be smaller than the national average in low-performing states (e.g., Mississippi and Kentucky) or larger (e.g., Nebraska).

“If you are looking for a state that stands out, look at Delaware,” said Natalia Pane, a managing research analyst at AIR.

“Delaware has a gap significantly smaller than the nation’s gap in three out of four NAEP assessments (4th and 8th grade reading and 4th grade mathematics, 2007) and Delaware’s White and Black students scored above the national average of their peers on those same three assessments. Perhaps most importantly, both Black and White students have shown long- and short-term score gains.”

“On the flip side,” Pane noted, “Wisconsin and Nebraska show some of the largest Black-White achievement gaps – 45 and 51 points in grade 8 mathematics, respectively – with Black students consistently scoring significantly below the national average.”

Media Contact

Dana Tofig

Managing Director, Corporate Communications