Press Release

Closing the achievement gap: 2002 NAEP Reading results show real results and remaining challenges

Publication date: Jun 19, 2003

(Washington, D.C.) – Results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Reading assessment for grades 4, 8 and 12, released today by the U.S. Department of Education, show that reform efforts targeted at the early grades have raised achievement and narrowed gaps between groups, while much work remains to be done at the higher grades.

Nationally, 4th grade reading scores are up for African American, Latino and White students, and gaps between groups are narrowing. Nationally, reading scores at the 12th grade level dropped for White, Latino and African American students.

According to Kati Haycock, Director of The Education Trust, the differences in the changes reflected at the lower grades compared to 12th grade are discouraging, but not surprising. “”Up to this point, most of our reform efforts –- especially in reading -– have been focused on the early grades, and we’re seeing the positive results of that effort. Unfortunately, that same kind of focus and reform hasn’’t been present at the secondary level. Rather than capitalizing on the better prepared students arriving at their doors, high schools are adding less value than ever before,”” Haycock said.

Everybody Wins at the Lower Grades

Achievement for 4th graders rose in almost every state. Notably, scale scores for:

  • African American 4th graders increased in 27 of 31 states.
  • Latino 4th graders increased in 19 of 21 states.
  • White 4th graders increased in 30 of 38 states.

As the attached chart shows, the African American-White gap narrowed in 25 of 33 states, and in every instance but one, narrowing occurred while scores increased for both African American and White students.

The Latino-White gap narrowed in 17 of 23 states, and in every instance but one, narrowing occurred while scores increased for both Latino and White students.

Because of sample sizes, not all increases are “statistically significant.” The following four states – New York, Massachusetts, Delaware and Virginia – are particularly noteworthy because not only were their increases clearly statistically significant, but they saw such increases in scale scores from 1998-2002 for their White, African American AND Latino 4th graders as well as for their low-income 4th graders. North Carolina had statistically significant increases for their White and African American 4th graders, but the sample size was too small to determine growth for Latino 4th graders.

States like New York and Delaware -– where achievement increased for White, Latino and African American students and where gaps between groups narrowed -– show that it’s possible to raise achievement for all groups while closing gaps between them.

“”We can close the gap that separates Black and Hispanic students from their White peers. There are a growing number of states, school districts and schools proving this every day, and they are not doing it with magic, but with common sense, political will, and hard work,”” Haycock noted.

Improvement doesnt take forever

The rate of improvement at the 4th and 8th grade levels in just four years – from 1998-2002 – is worth noting.

Scale score gains by race/ethnicity:

  • 28 of 32 states showed improvement for their African American 4th graders.
  • 20 of 22 states did so for their Latino 4th graders.
  • 31 of 37 states showed improvement for their White 4th graders.

As the attached chart shows, a number of these state gains were in the double digits – reflecting an increase of more than a year’s worth of learning.

““Clearly, improvement doesn’’t have to take forever. Some of these states are making substantial gains in a short amount of time. We see substantial gains at the district and school level every day,”” Haycock said.

Improving high schools

According to Haycock, raising achievement and closing gaps at the upper grades will take ensuring that:

  • All students are assigned to teachers who know their subjects and how to teach them.
  • All students are enrolled in a rigorous common core – or “college-prep” curriculum (see The Education Trust’s report, Thinking K-16: A Common Curriculum for All).
  • All students are held to a high standard of performance.

Moving Forward

“”The 4th grade results -– where most of the reform efforts have been focused up to this point -– make clear that when we as a country put our minds to something, roll up our shirt sleeves and really focus, we see dramatic gains. When we 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 too large, and it’s abundantly clear that high schools must step up to the plate and ensure that all students are reading at higher levels. The current picture for 12th graders of all races is simply unacceptable,”” Haycock concluded.

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