Achievement gaps forever?

Back before the 2019 release of the “Nation’s Report Card,” I predicted that somewhere out there in the four tests – fourth grade and eighth-grade Math and Reading – a statewide score for Black students would exceed a statewide score for white students for the first time in the history of NAEP testing.

It happened! Black students in Massachusetts narrowly edged out white students in West Virginia this year on eighth grade Reading. Delightfully, Black students attending Florida charter schools clobbered both of them, by the way.

Yes, West Virginia has the lowest scoring white students, and yes, those students are far below average compared their peers, and yes, this is nowhere close to good enough for either Massachusetts Black student or West Virginia white students. Yes, the difference in scores may have been within the margin of sampling error.

Having said all that, this had never happened before in decades of NAEP exams. This was an important milestone in closing achievement gaps.

Last week, NAEP released Long-Term Trend data for 2022. One pandemic goat-rodeo response later, any hope of a statewide sample of Black students closing the gap with any state’s sample of white students is gone.

On these exams, 10 points roughly approximates an average year of average academic progress. The national white-Black gap expanded from 25 points in 2020 to 32 in 2022.

Black students lost about twice as much as white students between 2020 and 2022. Higher income families were doubtlessly better situated to compensate for the absence of in-person schooling. The students “left at home with a jar of peanut butter and a spoon and told not to answer the door” appear to be the only group bearing the consequences for decisions they had no voice in making.

Your author fears that no one reading this post will live long enough to see the 2019 milestone reached again. State level NAEP results will be released in a matter of weeks and the full extent of the fiasco will stand revealed.

Stay tuned to this channel.

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BY Matthew Ladner

Matthew Ladner is executive editor of Next Steps. He has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform, and his articles have appeared in Education Next; the Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice; and the British Journal of Political Science. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received a master's degree and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. He lives in Phoenix with his wife and three children.