Closing the achievement gap: 2003 NAEP Reading and Math results show real results and remaining challenges gaps growing in 8th grade math in too many states

Publication date: Nov 13, 2003

(Washington, D.C.) — Results of the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Reading and Mathematics assessment for grades 4, and 8 released today by the U.S. Department of Education, show that in 8th grade mathematics and 4th grade reading, there has been progress raising achievement and moving students out of the lowest achievement levels into higher levels. Growing gaps in many states on 8th grade math, however, are a real concern.

Nationally, 4th grade reading scores are up from 1998 to 2003 for African American, Latino and White students, and gaps between groups are narrowing. Nationally, 8th grade math scores are up from 2000 to 2003 for African American, Latino and White students, but gaps between groups are growing in too many states.

8th Grade Mathematics

Notably, there was some real progress moving 8th graders out of the lowest level of achievement (““Below Basic””) in 8th grade mathematics into higher levels of achievement.

Nationally, the percentage of 8th graders scoring ““Below Basic” -– the lowest achievement level – decreased from 48% in 1990 to 32% in 2003. The percentage scoring “”Proficient”” or ““Advanced”” increased from 15% to 29% in that same time period — nearly doubling the percentage of students scoring in the two highest achievement levels.

Significantly, from 2000-2003, 28 of 40 states made progress moving 8th graders out of the lowest achievement level in mathematics into higher levels of achievement.

Achievement gaps narrowing in some states, but growing in others.

Nationally, while the achievement gap between African American and White students grew from 1990 to 2000, it narrowed from 2000-2003 from 40 scale score points to 35 points (a statistically significant decline). The Latino-White gap narrowed from 2000-2003, although by a smaller amount (two scale score points).

Some states narrowed achievement gaps while showing overall improvement, demonstrating that states can meet the twin goals of raising achievement for all students while closing gaps between groups of students.

For example, both Louisiana and Virginia increased their average White scale score by 5 points from 2000 to 2003, while increasing their average African American scale score by 10 points; raising achievement for both groups of students while narrowing the gap between groups by 5 points. Both of these states narrowed the gap while exceeding the national average gains, both in moving students out of the “”Below Basic”” category and in overall scale score increases.

“”These states show that we can close the achievement gap while raising achievement for all students,”” said Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust. “”States, school districts and schools are proving this every day, and they are not doing it with magic, but with common sense, political will, and hard work,”” Haycock noted.

Disturbingly, though, achievement gaps grew in many states in 8th grade math from 2000 to 2003. The African American-White gap grew in 10 of 29 states and remained stagnant in 3. The Latino-White gap grew in15 of 27 states, and remained stagnant in 3.

““The growing math achievement gaps in these states is a reminder that we have much work to do in ensuring that African and Latino youngsters are placed in rigorous math classes,”” Haycock noted. “”Data show that African American and Latino students are disproportionately placed in lower-level math courses compared to their White and Asian peers. That has simply got to change.””

4th Grade Reading

Nationally, 4th grade Reading scores for 2003 continued an overall trend of relatively flat scores over the last 10 years. However, some individual states made significant gains in terms of overall scores, moving students out of “”Below Basic”” and narrowing the achievement gap.

From 1998 to 2003, achievement for 4th graders rose in almost every state. Notably, scale scores for:

  • African American 4th graders increased in 28 of 33 states.
  • Latino 4th graders increased in 21 of 22 states.
  • White 4th graders increased in 29 of 37 states.

While nationally the African American-White and Latino-White achievement gap in 4th grade reading narrowed only slightly from 1998 to 2003, some individual states made gains.

As the attached chart shows, the African American-White gap narrowed in 24 of 33 states, and in every instance but four, narrowing occurred while scores increased for both African American and White students.

The Latino-White gap narrowed in 15 of 22 states, and in every instance but four, narrowing occurred while scores increased for both Latino and White students.

  • For example, Delaware reduced the Latino-White gap in terms of scale scores by 18 points from 1998 to 2003, while Oregon and New York have also seen double-digit gap narrowing.  Delaware also led the nation in the overall score increase for both African American and Latino students from 1998 to 2003.
  • Eight states reduced the scale-score gap between White and African American students by 5 or more points during the same time period (Missouri, Delaware, New Mexico, Nevada, West Virginia, Oregon, New York and Minnesota).

Significantly, from 1998-2003, 28 of 39 states made progress moving 4th graders out of the lowest achievement level in reading into higher levels of achievement:

Gaps Growing In Some States.

  • The African American-White gap grew, however, in 4th grade reading from 1998 to 2003 in six states.

Moving Forward

“”When we as a country get serious about something, we see results. It’s clear that shining a spotlight on these gaps, and addressing them rather than sweeping them under the rug, benefits all students. These gaps, though – many indicating differences of two or more years worth of learning – are still way too large,”” Haycock concluded.

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