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New NCES Tool Explores How Differential Learning Opportunities May Influence Achievement Gaps

Students stepping off a school bus.

Providing data on achievement gaps between students of different racial and ethnic groups is a vital part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mission. But merely comparing scores between student groups doesn’t tell the whole story. There are many factors that can lead to differential opportunities to learn and ultimately gaps in achievement outcomes. How can the data that the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) collects from NAEP student, teacher, and school surveys be used to help us gain a deeper understanding of these gaps to inform better educational policies?

NCES has launched a new tool to explore how score gaps between student groups change when considering select factors related to learning. These factors include, among others:

  • Students’ socioeconomic status;
  • Number of days absent from school;
  • Participation in Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses;
  • Attitudes towards learning; and
  • Confidence in specific subject matter.

The tool currently allows the user to examine the NAEP 2019 reading results at grades 4, 8 and 12. Other subjects and grades will be added to the tool in the future.

With the rollout of this tool, you can see how the White-Black, White-Hispanic, and White-Asian score gaps change when you control for some of the key contextual factors. By so doing, you can begin to explore how different factors influence score gaps. For example, the reported White-Black gap in NAEP grade 12 reading is 32 points and the White-Hispanic gap is 21 points. After controlling for NAEP-collected data on gender, socioeconomic status, post-secondary planning activities, and students’ attitudes toward learning, the White-Black gap is reduced to 19 points and the White-Hispanic gap is reduced to 4 points.

Screen capture of the Achievement Gap Tool

NOTE: Unadjusted score gap refers to the difference between the average scores of two groups of students. Adjusted score gap refers to the estimated score gap once regression analysis calculates the influence of the variables selected. For additional information about the analyses in the tool, see “Technical notes.”

While NCES collects data to help users examine student group scores in relation to various contextual factors—such as socioeconomic status proxy measures like parental educational levels and participation in National School Lunch Program—NAEP data are not exhaustive. The data representing factors or clusters of factors are not meant to suggest that they fully capture everything that may influence student performance.

Understanding the myriad factors that contribute to students’ performance on NAEP is undoubtedly a complex endeavor. The NAEP Achievement Gap Tool is one way to provide a nuanced approach to understanding differential achievement between student groups using NAEP data from students, teachers, and schools. This effort will hopefully inform policies that aim to provide more equal opportunities for learning.

Ultimately, the more information we have around achievement gaps and opportunity gaps, the better educators and decision makers can ensure students have the support and resources they need to succeed. NCES is continuing to enhance its data collections and reporting mechanisms to provide as much valid and relevant data on students and their educational experiences and environments as possible to further inform the field.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), NAEP Plus.


NAEP Plus: The Official Blog of the Nation's Report Card

This is a very good idea. I would add English Language Learner status and Parental Educational Attainment. The former is particularly important for Hispanic students.

Posted on November 20, 2023

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