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Report: The state's "achievement gap" is narrowing, very slowly

A graph using data from the Nation's Report Card shows the achievement gap of fourth graders on a national math exam.
A graph using data from the Nation's Report Card shows the achievement gap of fourth graders on a national math exam.
Nell Gluckman

A new report throws some cold water on optimism about the state’s black-white achievement gap, finding that while the gap is narrowing, it’s no different from the national average.

The findings were part of a report by the National Center for Education Statistics that examined racial achievement gaps for math and reading across the country. Relying on data culled from the National Assessment of Education Progress exam — also known as the Nation’s Report Card — from the early 1990s to 2007, the report zeros in on the scores of the nation’s fourth and eighth graders.

On a national level, the study found that the reading achievement gap has slowly narrowed, but the math gap has not budged. Students’ scores have increased in both areas, but black students’ scores need to go up faster than whites’ scores in order for the gap to close.

“I think New York fits in,” said Stuart Kerachsky, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, on a conference call with reporters this morning. “Its gap is not significantly different from the average gap and it didn’t change in a significant way.”

Kerachsky also noted that New York’s achievement gap increased slightly between 2005 and 2007 for fourth graders taking math and reading exams. New data on the state’s achievement gap will arrive this fall, when the Nation’s Report Card is due to come out.

The most recent data, which comes from 2007, shows New York State’s racial achievement gaps nearly matching national averages. They are also quite similar to the averages in New Jersey, which has similar demographics. Connecticut, which also has regional similarities, has above average achievement gaps in both fourth and eight grades.

In 2007, black and white fourth graders across the nation had an achievement gap of 26 points on the math exam, just as they did in New York. For fourth grade reading, it was 27 points, whereas it was 26 points in New York. Gaps among eighth graders also mimicked the national numbers.

Looking back at older data from the early 1990s to the most recent information, it becomes more difficult to discern a distinct trend in New York.

For example, a graph of fourth grade achievement in reading shows an achievement gap of 27 in 1992, a gap of 37 in 1998, a gap of 24 in 2005, and then a gap of 26 in 2007.

“It looks like it’s just bouncing around and it’s not heading in one particular direction. It’s staying pretty flat,” said Howard Everson, a psychometrician at Fordham University.

Everson, who is the lead testing adviser to the New York State Education Department and an adviser to the federal government on its testing regime, said these fluctuations likely occur because of changes in the test’s samples. The Report Card exams in reading and math are given every two years to different schools across the country that volunteer for them.

In a statement released by the Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability, director of research and communications B. Jason Brooks said he was concerned that between 2005 and 2007, New York States’ gap widened slightly while the national gap narrowed.

“According to this well-regarded national assessment, and despite the claims of some education policy makers, New York has failed to effectively level the playing field for academic achievement,” he said.

Everson said that using the state data to cast judgment on New York City schools wasn’t entirely fair, as there’s no way of knowing how many city students are in the Report Card samples.

Still, he said he was skeptical of Mayor Bloomberg and chancellor Joel Klein’s claims to have significantly narrowed the city’s achievement gap.

“I think I would take the Bloomberg claims with a grain of salt because we just need more data,” he said.

Kerachsky said this was the first time the organization had included analysis of state data in its national report. However, it does not include information from all states, as a handful of states such as Montana and Idaho, do not have enough black students to produce a statistically significant sample size. The National Center for Education Statistics is currently working on a similar achievement gap study that focuses on white and Latino students.

Grade 4, math

Grade 4, reading

Grade 8, math

Grade 8, reading

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