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Significant gains in educational achievement by blacks go underappreciated

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Snapshot for October 17, 2007.

Significant gains in educational achievement by blacks go underappreciated

by Joydeep Roy

Politicians and policy makers often decry the state of American schools and label them as “failing,” in part because of their apparent failure to adequately educate students of color. Such analyses, however, fail to acknowledge the significant gains in achievement by blacks since 1990, as shown in the recently released results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card.

Performance in 4th grade mathematics, NAEP, 1990 and 2007

The average mathematics scale score for white 4th grade students was 220 in 1990, while that for black students was 188, a gap of 32 points. By 2007 though, black students have increased their score to 222, up by 34 points or more than the black-white achievement gap in 1990. Thus, if white achievement had been unchanged since 1990, the black-white gap would have been entirely eliminated. This represents substantial progress, though more progress is needed.

These results carry over to other grades, too. In 8th grade mathematics, black students increased their average scale score from 237 to 260 (outpacing the rate of increase by whites). However, the increases appear to be more modest for reading, where the average black score for 4th grade students increased from 192 to 203. Educators and policy makers should celebrate these gains in academic performance by blacks and build on this success to improve performance in reading and further narrow the racial gaps.

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