Report: When/why progress in closing achievement gap stalled
Called “The Black-White Achievement Gap: When Progress Stopped,” the report by the Educational Testing Service examines periods of progress and stagnation since 1910 in closing the achievement gap.
Anybody who thinks that the achievement gap will be closed by throwing more standardized test scores at kids and without addressing health and social issues should read the report and think again.
The report, written by Paul E. Barton and Richard J. Coley of ETS’s Policy Information Center, uses data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress to show that there was a steady narrowing of the achievement gap from the 1970s until the late 1980s. Scores essentially remained the same since then.
"The last 20 years have essentially yielded a period of stability in spite of a lot of national attention to the gap, and measures taken that were expected to narrow it,” Coley, director of the ETS Policy Information Center, said in a statement. “We want to know why.”
The authors discuss various issues that could help explain why progress stopped, including some sensitive ones such as inadequate care in early childhood, the decline of communities and neighborhoods, the explosion of single-parent families, the employment plight of black males and stalled intergenerational mobility out of seriously disadvantaged neighborhoods.
These areas are important, the report says, because student achievement is related to family, demographic and environmental factors.
The report discusses at length how difficult it is for people living in seriously disadvantaged neighbors to break the cycle of poverty.
It says that while 5 percent of white children in the United States born between 1955 and 1970 grew up in highly disadvantaged neighborhoods, 84 percent of black children did.
There was little change for children born between 1985 and 2000. Four out of five black children who started in the top three income quintiles experienced downward mobility, compared with two out of five white children. As for upward mobility, three out of five white children who started in the bottom two quintiles experienced upward mobility, versus just one out of four black children.
“In such circumstances, any generational improvement becomes a huge challenge,” the report says.
Restarting progress in closing the achievement gap must be addressed on multiple levels, Coley said.
“Entire neighborhoods may have to be uplifted in terms of their economic capital, school quality, safety and health structures,” he said.
The report refers to research by University of Chicago economist Derek Neal who projected that based on current trends, reaching equality could take from 50 to 100 years unless the dynamic that exists today is broken.