StateStats: Closing the Achievement Gap?

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April 2008 

The U.S. Department of Education boasted about the rising test scores for students of color, with the release of the 2007 National Assessment of Academic Progress (NAEP) results last year. The achievement gap between students of color and whites, however, has not closed much at all, and in some cases is increasing.

In 1990, for example, the eighth grade gap in mathematics between whites and African-Americans was 33 points and 24 points between whites and Latinos. While scores for African-Americans and Latinos have increased over the years—by 23 points and 19 points respectively—the gap in achievement between African-Americans and whites decreased by a only two points, and the gap between Latinos and whites increased by two points. African-Americans in 2007 still scored 10 points below what whites scored back in 1990.

Every 10-point difference on the NAEP test is roughly equivalent to a full grade level of learning. In 2007, eighth-grade African-Americans were more than three grade levels behind their white peers in mathematics.

The average reading scores in each state for white fourth graders range from a high score of 241 (Massachusetts) to a low of 216 (West Virginia). Although the range between states for Native American and white students is similarly wide  , the lowest scoring state for white students is three points higher than the highest scoring state for Native students. In other words, there is more than a five-year learning difference (54 points) between the lowest state for Native students and the highest state for whites. This gap between states is occurring in all subjects and grade levels, as well as with African-American and Latino students.

The gap among white, Latino and African-American high school graduates going on to college is also increasing. While in 1976 it was 49 percent, 52 percent and 45 percent respectively, in 2005 it was 73 percent, 54 percent and 57 percent. In fact, college enrollment for Latino high school graduates has increased by only 1.5 percentage points during the last 30 years.

For more information, please look for Leadership Through Action: Closing the Gap and Engaging Latino Communities for Education in the online NCSL bookstore at