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Achievement Gaps: How Hispanic and White Students in Public Schools Perform in Mathematics and Reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress

June 2011

Authors: F. Cadelle Hemphill, Alan Vanneman, Taslima Rahman

PDF Download the complete report in a PDF file for viewing and printing. (7730K PDF)


Executive Summary

Cover of 2011 Hispanic White Achievement Gaps report

This report provides detailed information on the size of the achievement gaps between Hispanic and White public school students at the national and state levels and describes how those achievement gaps have changed over time. Additional information about race/ethnicity in NAEP is given in appendix A of the report. Most of the data in this report is derived from the results of the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) main assessments in mathematics and reading; however the trend data provided is derived from results from as early as 1990. Achievement Gaps: How Hispanic and White Students in Public Schools Perform in Mathematics and Reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, follows our previous report that provided similar information on the achievement gap between Black and White students (Vanneman et al. 2009).

Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of the United States population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau data (Guzman 2001), the Hispanic1 population increased by about 58 percent, from 22 million in 1990 to 35 million in 2000, compared with an increase of about 13 percent for the total U.S. population. In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the number of Hispanics to be about 50.5 million, or about 16 percent of the U.S. population, up 43 percent from the 2000 census. The increase of over 15 million Hispanics from 2000 to 2010 accounted for more than half of the total population increase in the U.S. during that time (Humes, Jones, and Ramirez 2011). As these data reflect, the proportion of the U.S. population that is Hispanic is increasing over time. Additionally, data collected in 2009 by the U.S. Department of Education indicate that a substantial proportion of Hispanic students in grades 4 (37 percent) and 8 (21 percent) are English language learners. These two facts—the growing size of the Hispanic population in the United States and the percentage of fourth- and eighth-grade Hispanic students that are English language learners—underlie the achievement gap between Hispanic and White fourth- and eighth-graders. Closing the Hispanic-White achievement gap remains a challenge. While Hispanic students’ average scores have increased across the assessment years, White students had higher scores, on average, on all assessments.

The NAEP 2009 Reading and Mathematics Assessments included grade 4 and grade 8 students nationally and for all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity (hereinafter referred to as states).2

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Mathematics

In 2009, NAEP mathematics scores for both Hispanic and White students in grades 4 and 8 nationwide were higher than in 1990, the first assessment year for both Hispanic and White public school students. Mathematics scores increased, but the achievement gap between Hispanic and White students did not change significantly at either grade 4 or 8 from 1990 to 2009. From 2007 to 2009, scores for Hispanic and White fourth-graders remained unchanged and the gap persisted at 21 points. For eighth-graders, scores increased for both Hispanic and White students from 2007 to 2009, but the gap remained at 26 points, which was not significantly different from the gap in 1990 or 2007. At grade 8, the 2009 mathematics achievement gap for Hispanic and White students eligible for the National School Lunch Program was narrower than in 2003.

  • In 2009 at grade 4, eleven states had a smaller Hispanic-White gap than the nation, and six states had a gap that was larger.
  • At grade 4, in all 21 states for which 1992 data were available, both Hispanic and White students achieved higher average scores in mathematics in 2009 than in 1992. In six of those states (Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island) the gap narrowed as Hispanic students’ scores increased more than White students’ scores. In five additional states (Delaware, the Department of Defense Education Activity, Michigan, Missouri, and Oregon) the gap narrowed between Hispanic and White students since the first NAEP assessment year for that state or the first year for which Hispanic student results are reportable. Since all states did not participate in the grade 4 NAEP mathematics assessment in 1992, the first NAEP assessment year varies.
  • In 2009 at grade 8, fifteen states had a smaller Hispanic-White gap than the nation, and six had a gap that was larger.
  • At grade 8, in 14 of the 15 states for which 1990 data were available, the mathematics scores of Hispanic and White students were higher in 2009 than in 1990. In both Connecticut and Rhode Island, the gap was narrower in 2009 than in 1990. In three additional states, Delaware, Hawaii, and Missouri, the gap narrowed between Hispanic and White students since the first year for which Hispanic student results are reportable.
  • In Maryland, the gap was wider in 2009 than in 1990, as White eighth-graders’ scores increased more than those of their Hispanic peers. In Utah, the gap was wider in 2009 than in 1992, the first NAEP assessment year for that state. Since all states did not participate in the grade 8 NAEP mathematics assessment in 1990, the first NAEP assessment year varies.
  • Hispanic-White mathematics gap data were not available in 2009 for fourth graders in Maine, Mississippi, North Dakota, Vermont, or West Virginia, or for eighth graders in the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, North Dakota, Vermont, or West Virginia because the size of the NAEP sample of Hispanic or White students was too small to provide reliable results.

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Reading

At the national level, reading scores increased for both groups significantly, but the achievement gap between Hispanic and White students did not change for fourth- or eighth-graders when comparing 1992 to 2009. From 2007 to 2009, scores did not change significantly for either group at the fourth grade. The 26-point gap for fourth-graders in 2007 was not significantly different from the 25-point gap in 2009. The 25-point gap for eighth-graders in 2007 was not significantly different from the 24-point gap in 2009, though scores for both Hispanic and White students have increased. At grades 4 and 8, the 2009 reading achievement gap for Hispanic and White students eligible for the National School Lunch Program was narrower than in 2003.

  • At grade 4, thirteen states had a smaller Hispanic-White gap than the nation, and six had a gap that was larger.
  • At grade 4, in 11 of the 21 states for which 1992 data were available, the reading scores of Hispanic and White students were higher in 2009 than in 1992. Both New Jersey and New York had a narrower gap in 2009 than 1992. In Colorado, the gap widened when comparing 2009 to 1992. In Indiana the gap widened between Hispanic and White students when comparing 2009 to 2002, the first NAEP assessment year for which Hispanic student results are reportable for that state. All states did not participate in the first grade 4 state NAEP reading assessment in 1992, so the first year for which data were available varies.
  • At grade 8, seven states had a smaller Hispanic-White gap than the nation, and no state had a gap that was larger.
  • At grade 8 state-level data were available for 22 states starting in 1998. When comparing 2009 to 1998, the grade 8 reading gap did not change significantly in any state. In Wyoming, both Hispanic and White students scored higher in 2009 than in 1998. In Alaska, the gap narrowed between Hispanic and White students when comparing 2009 to 2003, the first NAEP assessment year for that state. All states did not participate in the first grade 8 state NAEP reading assessment in 1998, so the first year for which data were available varies.
  • Hispanic-White reading gap data were not available in 2009 for fourth-graders in Maine, North Dakota, Vermont, or West Virginia, or for eighth-graders in the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, or West Virginia because the size of the NAEP sample of Hispanic and White students was too small to provide reliable results.

The NAEP reading and mathematics scales make it possible to examine relationships between students’ performance and various background factors measured by NAEP, such as race. However, a relationship that exists between achievement and another variable does not reveal its underlying cause, which may be influenced by a number of other variables. Similarly, the assessments do not reflect the influence of unmeasured variables. The results are most useful when they are considered in combination with other information about the student population and the education system, such as trends in instruction, changes in the school-age population, and societal demands and expectations.

All differences discussed in this report are significant at the .05 level after controlling for multiple comparisons. The technical notes for this report provide information about sampling, accommodations, interpreting statistical significance, and other technical features.

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1. According to the U.S. Census, Hispanics or Latinos are those people who classified themselves in one of the specific Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino categories listed on the Census 2010 questionnaire. People who identify their origin as Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino may be of any race. For further information see U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 Census of Population, Public Law 94-171 Redistricting Data File. Available online: http://factfinder2.census.gov.

2. Not all states had Hispanic (or White) student populations large enough to provide reliable data, and not all states participated in the earliest NAEP assessments.

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PDF Download the complete report in a PDF file for viewing and printing. (7730K PDF)

NCES 2011-459 See the entry in the NCES database for contact and ordering information, and for links to similar topics.

Suggested Citation
Hemphill, F. C., and Vanneman, A. (2010). Achievement Gaps: How Hispanic and White Students in Public Schools Perform in Mathematics and Reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NCES 2011-459). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

For more information about this topic, visit the Achievement Gaps section of the NAEP website.


Last updated 01 July 2011 (AA)
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