With Black History Month nearly complete, it’s appropriate to examine our progress on narrowing the black-white achievement gap in America. After considering scores from 2003 and 2011, there is both good and bad news to report.
To get a sense of the United States’ progress in this area over the last decade, I took 4th and 8th grade, reading and mathematics scores from the most recent (2011) National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report. Adding these scores together yields one total performance score per state. One score was calculated for the state’s white student population and one for the state’s black population.
The good news: If we look at the national trend since 2003, the black-white achievement gap among states is narrowing. According to this analysis, the national average gap in 2003 between white and black students was 126.23 points and in 2011 it decreased to 104.63 points. For context, a 160-point difference across the four tests is roughly the equivalent to the difference between the average 4th and 8th grader. So, 21.6 point reduction from 2003 to 2011 is equivalent to closing the gap by about half an academic year. We’re making progress.
The bad news: Achievement gaps still persist. On average, the difference between white student and black student performance is 104.63 points, a little over two academic years. In other words, an 8th grade black student is performing at the same level as a mid-year 5th grader. Across the states, there is tremendous variation is closing gaps. For example, the District of Columbia has the largest white-black achievement gap at 235.01 and Tennessee has the smallest at 33.72. That means the white-black achievement gap range across the states in 2011 was 201.92, over 4 ½ years of schooling across the measured subjects.
In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education allowed for the integration of public schools. Nearly 60 years later, let’s celebrate the progress we’ve made as a nation, but not forget that we still have a ways to go.
*Dropped from sample due to lack of data: Hawaii, Nevada, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming
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