Study Shows Progress on Closing Achievement Gap Stalled

The Educational Testing Service has released a new report showing that after a long period of progress in narrowing the educational attainment and achievement gaps between African-American and white students, that progress has stalled. The report, The Black-White Achievement Gap: When Progress Stopped, includes unsettling research that indicates reaching equality could take 50 to 100 years if current patterns continue.

The report examines three time periods. Beginning with the 1970s and 80s,  the gaps in reading and math NAEP scores narrowed substantially. But since the late 1980s, there has been a sustained period of stagnation. Things changed at the beginning of the 20th century:  the gap in educational attainment levels first started to narrow.

The authors of the report describe several factors that could be implicated in blocking continued progress, such as inadequate care in early childhood, the decline of communities and neighborhoods, the increase of single-parent families, the employment plight of African-American males, and stalled inter-generational mobility out of disadvantaged neighborhoods. The effect of the lack of movement of succeeding generations becomes cumulative for successive generations. In ETS’s press release, the study’s authors said:

The data show that many Black people have been stuck in neighborhoods deprived of social and economic capital for several generations. Although only 5% of White children born between 1955 and 1970 grew up in highly-disadvantaged neighborhoods, 84% of Black children did so. Approaches to restart progress will require addressing this problem on multiple levels. Entire neighborhoods may have to be uplifted in terms of their economic capital, school quality, safety and health structures.

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