Racial Achievement Gap

Over the past 45 years, students in the United States have made notable gains in academic achievement. However, the racial achievement gap remains because not all groups of students are advancing at the same rates. Evidence of the racial achievement gap has been manifested through standardized test scores, high school dropout rates, high school completion rates, college acceptance and retention rates, as well as through longitudinal trends. While efforts to close the racial achievement gap have increased over the years with varying success, studies have shown that disparities still exist between achievement levels of minorities compared to White counterparts.

Early schooling years
Kindergarten through fifth grade
The racial achievement gap has been found to exist before students enter kindergarten for their first year of schooling. At the start of kindergarten, Hispanic and black students have math and reading scores substantially lower than those of white students. While both Hispanics and blacks scores have significantly lower test scores than their white counterparts, Hispanic and black have scores that are roughly equal to each other. In a study published in 2009, Reardon and Galindo (2009) specifically examine test scores by race. The data Reardon and Galindo (2009) use comes from the ECLS-K, sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics. The ECLS-K contains data on a nationally representative sample of approximately 21,400 students from the kindergarten class of 1998-1999. Students in the sample were assessed in reading and mathematics skills six times from 1998 to 2004. The content areas of the tests are based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) fourth-grade content areas, adapted to be age appropriate at each grade level. The assessments were scored using a three-parameter Item Response Theory (IRT) model. Reardon and Galindo (2009) found that average Hispanic and black students begin kindergarten with math scores three quarters of a standard deviation lower than those of white students and with reading scores a half standard deviation lower than those of white students. Six years later, Hispanic-white gaps narrow by roughly a third, whereas black-white gaps widen by about a third. More specifically, the Hispanic-white gap is a half standard deviation in math, and three-eighths in reading at the end of fifth grade. The trends in the Hispanic-white gaps are especially interesting because of the rapid narrowing that occurs between kindergarten and first grade. Specifically, the estimated math gap declines from 0.77 to 0.56 standard deviations, and the estimated reading gap from 0.52 to 0.29 in the roughly 18 months between the fall of kindergarten and the spring of first grade. In the four years from the spring of first grade through the spring of fifth grade, the Hispanic-white gaps narrow slightly to 0.50 standard deviations in math and widening slightly to 0.38 deviations in reading.

Third through eighth grade
In a 2006 study published in the Review of Economics and Statistics, Clotfelter (2006) examines test scores of elementary and middle school students by race. The data used in the study comes from administrative records created by North Carolina's Department of Public Instruction and maintained by the North Carolina Education Research Data Center and are not nationally representative. North Carolina requires all students to take standardized achievement tests in both math and reading at the end of every grade between grades 3 and 8. In order to make comparisons across years, Clotfelter (2006) normalized the scaled scores for each test in every year over all students in the state who took the test so that each test would have a mean score of 0 and a standard deviation of 1. On this normalized scale, positive scores denote above-average performances relative to the statewide average, and negative scores denote below-average performance. Analysis by Clotfelter (2006) found gaps between four different racial groups: whites, Asians, Hispanics, and blacks. Essentially, while the black-white gaps are substantial, both Hispanic and Asian students tend to gain on whites as they progress in school. The white-black achievement gap in math scores is about half a standard deviation, and the white-black achievement gap in reading is a little less than half a standard deviation. By fifth grade, Hispanic and white students have roughly the same math and reading scores. By eighth grade, scores for Hispanic students in North Carolina surpassed those of observationally equivalent whites by roughly a tenth of a standard deviation. Asian students surpass whites on math and reading tests in all years except third and fourth grade reading.

Secondary school
In a 2006 study, LoGerfo, Nichols, and Reardon (2006) found that, starting in the eighth grade, white students have an initial advantage in reading achievement over black and Hispanic students but not Asian students. Using nationally representative data from by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)--the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS-K) and the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS:88), LoGerfo, Nichols, and Reardon (2006) claim that black students score 5.49 points lower than white students and Hispanic students score 4.83 points lower than white students on reading tests. These differences in initial status are compounded by differences in reading gains made during high school. Specifically, between ninth and tenth grades, white students gain slightly more than black students and Hispanic students, but white students gain less than Asian students. Between tenth and twelfth grades, white students gain at a slightly faster rate than black students, but white students gain at a slower rate than Hispanic students and Asian students.

In eighth grade, white students also have an initial advantage over black and Hispanic students in math tests. However, Asian students have an initial 2.71 point advantage over white students and keep pace with white students throughout high school. Between eighth and tenth grade, black students and Hispanic students make slower gains in math than white students, and black students fall farthest behind. Asian students gain 2.71 points more than white students between eight and tenth grade. Some of these differences in gains persist later in high school. For example, between tenth and twelfth grades, white students gain more than black students, and Asian students gain more than white students. There are no significant differences in math gains between white students and Hispanic students. By the end of high school, gaps between groups increase slightly. Specifically, the initial 9-point advantage of white students over black students increases by about a point, and the initial advantage of Asian students over white students also increases by about a point. Essentially, by the end of high school, Asian students are beginning to learn intermediate-level math concepts, whereas black and Hispanic students are far behind, learning fractions and decimals, which are math concepts that the white and Asian students learned in the eighth grade. Black and Hispanic students end twelfth grade with scores 11 and 7 points behind those of white students, while the male-female difference in math scores is only around 2 points.

Standardized test scores
The racial group differences across admissions tests, such as the SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT, MCAT, LSAT, Advanced Placement Program examinations and other measures of educational achievement, have been fairly consistent. Since the 1960s, the population of students taking these assessments has become increasingly diverse. Consequently, the examination of ethnic score differences have been more rigorous. Specifically, the largest gaps exist between white and African American students. On average, they score about .82 to 1.18 standard deviations lower than white students in composite test scores. Following closely behind is the gap between white and Hispanic students. Asian American students performance were comparable to those of White students except Asian American students performed one quarter standard deviation unit lower on the SAT verbal section, and about one half a standard deviation unit higher in the GRE Quantitative test.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress reports the national Black-White gap and the Hispanic-White Gap in math and reading assessments, measured at the 4th and 8th grade level. The trends show both gaps widen in mathematics as students grow older, but tend to stay the same in reading. Furthermore, the NAEP measures the widening and narrowing of achievement gaps on a state level. From 2007 to 2009, the achievement gaps for the majority of states stayed the same, although more fluctuations were seen at the 8th grade level than the 4th grade level.

The Black-White Gap demonstrates:
In mathematics, a 26-point difference at the 4th grade level and a 31-point difference at the 8th grade level.
In reading, a 27-point difference at the 4th grade level and a 26-point difference at the 8th grade level.

The Hispanic White Gap demonstrates:
In mathematics, a 21-point difference at the 4th grade level and a 26-point difference at the 8th grade level.
In reading, there is a 25-point difference at the 4th grade level and a 24-point difference at the 8th grade level.