Center on Education Policy
October 2009

This report from the Center on Education Policy uses achievement data from state tests to answer two questions: to what extent do achievement gaps persist between minority students (African American, Latino, and Native American) and their white and Asian counterparts, and between students from low-income families and their wealthier peers? And is achievement rising for all student subgroups –e.g. are gaps narrowing because some groups are doing worse, or are all groups still making some gains? 

CEP analyzed data from fourth-grade state test results at three achievement levels (basic, proficient, and advanced) to determine whether students in each category made gains. It also examined achievement gaps in proficiency at grades four, eight, and at one high school level, as well as gaps in average test scores. Overall findings indicate that achievement gaps are narrowing in most states. More importantly, the reduction of achievement disparities is most often the result of the accelerated accomplishment of low-performing groups, rather than the decreased performance of higher-performing groups. Achievement gaps at the proficient-or-above level narrowed more often for African American and Latino subgroups; Native American and low-income subgroups also made positive gains, but their success was on a much smaller scale.

Despite these findings, the report indicates that disparities between high- and low-performing groups still remain as wide as 20 percent. In Ohio, the achievement gap is even wider—86 percent of white fourth graders scored at the proficient level or higher in reading, compared to just 59 percent of African American fourth graders (for a full look at Ohio’s subgroup achievement and gap trends profile, see here). Further, there were declines among Ohio fourth graders at the advanced level in at least six subgroups, indicating that higher-performers could be losing ground. Decision makers in Ohio should note the results of this report, especially as education officials being revising academic standards before June 2010. The state’s achievement gaps remain gaping, and achievement among higher-performing students has started to drop. The development of rigorous academic standards should be part of the state’s strategy to deliver students to higher levels of achievement and stay competitive with the rest of the nation. Read it here.

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