Thursday, June 20, 2013
A new report by Education Sector details changes in the the achievement gap as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Between 2003 and 2011 on 4th and 8th grade reading and math, the report finds that all students combined have shown a 20 point gain. Moreover, the subgroups of White, Poor, African American, and Latino students all showed gains. Starting from a lower baseline to begin with, however, African American, Latino, and Poor students all posted larger gains than Whites. These groups still achieve at a significantly lower level than Whites, but the gap closed. This is all encouraging news.
The discouraging news is that the gap between the students of some states has widened. For instance, the gains in New Jersey and Maryland tripled or quadrupled the gains of students in about 10 other states. Thus, while the national racial and poverty achievement gaps have shrunk, the gap between states has grown enormously. The report characterizes these diverge realities as follows:
Let us put this new state achievement gap in perspective. The U.S. has a notorious and persistent difference in achievement between black and white students. Rooted in slavery, segregated schools and a century of social and economic discrimination, the black-white achievement gap is depressingly large. . . . In 2011, white students scored 1044 on our composite of four NAEP assessments; black students totaled 939—a 105 point gap. Recalling that students improve about 10 points per grade level per test, a gap of 105 points translates into two-and-a-half years of achievement. Put another way, a white student midway through sixth grade achieves at about the same level as a black student at the end of eighth grade. In a nation founded on the principle of equality, that is an unacceptably large gap in achievement.
And the nation has long sought to reduce it. A decade before ESEA was passed, the Supreme Court declared separate but equal schools unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education. Research has looked hard for solutions. But a gap that took two centuries to establish has proven stubbornly resistant to improvement. Over nearly 40 years, by our composite measure, the gap has narrowed by only 25 points—about a half point per year.
All of which makes the new gap between the states alarming. . . . In just eight years, the states have created an achievement gap that is about 60 percent of the magnitude of the racial achievement gap—that took two centuries to establish. In just eight years, the states have created an achievement gap that is nearly 250 percent the magnitude of hard won reductions in the racial achievement gap over 40 years.
Because student achievement is so heavily influenced by family, community, and other factors beyond the reach of the schoolhouse, it is hard to find schooling making a substantial difference in student achievement. But that is precisely what the state NAEP data indicate. Achievement in some states has been soaring; achievement in other states has been lagging. And the pace of differentiation rivals, indeed exceeds, that associated with America’s deepest social division.
The report also goes on to discuss NCLB waivers and the role their relevance to achievement gaps moving forward.