Students Improving but Black-White Education Gap Persists

The achievement gap in basic math and reading between black and white elementary school students has narrowed since the early 1990s, according to a new Education Department study. But progress made toward narrowing the gap appears to diminish by the time students reach middle school.

Since 1990, the achievement gap in math for fourth-graders has narrowed from 31 points down to 26 points, based on a 500-point scale. In reading, the gap has been reduced from 32 points to 27 points since 1992. The same is not true by the time students reach eighth-grade. Since the first assessments for eighth-grade math in 1990 and reading in 1998, the changes in the achievement gaps in both disciplines have been statistically insignificant.

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Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., House Education and Labor Committee chairman, said the continued gap among eighth-grade students may be contributing to high school dropout rates. "The fact that there has been no significant closing of the achievement gap in reading for eighth-grade students is alarming," Miller said. "Research shows us that students who struggle in middle school are much more likely to drop out of high school. These students earn a million dollars less over their lifetime than high school graduates. In this economy, we simply cannot let another student face this harsh reality.

"This report offers further proof that we need to focus significantly more attention and resources on the high school dropout crisis that continues to threaten our economic strength and competitiveness. These results underscore the need to address the dropout crisis, and that means doing more on behalf of struggling students before they ever enter the doors of high school."

Overall, the new National Assessment of Educational Progress report, entitled "Achievement Gaps: How Black and White Students in Public Schools Perform in Reading and Mathematics on the National Assessment of Educational Progress," found that, nationally, both black and white public school students are scoring higher in both subjects than in any previous assessment, going back to 1990.

Closing The Achievement Gap

"We must, simultaneously, raise the achievement of all students, while closing gaps in achievement between different groups of students," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. "This report shows that this can be done, but the progress has been too slow. The achievement gaps are still too wide, and overall achievement is too low, especially compared to other countries. We must accelerate school reforms to make sure all of our students are prepared to compete in the global marketplace."

Peggy Carr, associate commissioner for assessment at the National Center for Education Statistics, said, "Everybody's learning, but the gap isn't closing in many of the states. It's far more difficult to narrow a gap when both groups of students are making progress."

The latest NAEP includes results from nationwide tests taken in 2007 and marks the first major Education Department report since President Barack Obama came into office. The results are likely to incite discussions about the effects of the No Child Left Behind law, which sought largely to bring up the performance of low-achieving students.

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