NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 30, 2009

The achievement gap between white and minority students has not narrowed in recent years, despite the focus of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law on improving the scores of blacks and Hispanics, according to results of a federal test considered to be the nation's best measure of long-term trends in math and reading proficiency.


  • Between 2004 and last year, scores for young minority students increased, but so did those of white students, leaving the achievement gap stubbornly wide.
  • Although Black and Hispanic elementary, middle and high school students all scored much higher on the federal test than they did three decades ago, most of those gains were not made in recent years, but during the desegregation efforts of the 1970s and 1980s.
  • That was well before the 2001 passage of the No Child law, the official description of which is "An Act to Close the Achievement Gap."

"There's not much indication that NCLB is causing the kind of change we were all hoping for," said G. Gage Kingsbury, a testing expert who is a director at the Northwest Evaluation Association in Portland.  "Trends after the law took effect mimic trends we were seeing before.  But in terms of watershed change, that doesn't seem to be happening."

For example:

  • Despite gains made by both whites and minorities, the overall scores of the United States' 17-year-old students, averaged across all groups, were the same as those of teenagers who took the test in the early 1970s; this was largely due to a shift in demographics; there are now far more lower-scoring minorities in relation to whites.
  • In 1971, the proportion of white 17-year-olds who took the reading test was 87 percent, while minorities were 12 percent; last year, whites had declined to 59 percent while minorities had increased to 40 percent.
  • The scores of 9- and 13-year-old students, however, were up modestly in reading, and were considerably higher in math, since 2004, the last time the test was administered, and they were quite a bit higher than those of students of the same age a generation back; still, the progress of younger students tapered off as they got older.

Source: Sam Dillon, "'No Child' Law is Not Closing a Racial Gap," New York Times, April 29, 2009.

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