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​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​School Composition and the Black-White Achievement Gap

September 24, 2015

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Executive Summary

School Composition and the Black-White Achievement Gap Report Cover ​​

​​​​​The Black–White achievement gap has often been studied, but its relationship to school composition has generally not been explored. The demographic makeup of public schools is of particular interest, given recent concerns about the growing resegregation of schools (Frankenberg, Lee, and Orfield 2003; Orfield, Kucsera, and Siegel-Hawley 2012). This report explored eighth-grade achievement as it relates to the percentage of students in the school who were Black.1 ​The category Black includes students who identified as “Black or African American.” or the density of Black students, to contribute to the understanding of the Black–White student achievement gap. The data used to explore these relationships came primarily from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2011 Mathematics Grade 8 Assessment but also from the Common Core of Data for 2010–11, which provided additional school characteristics.

On average, White students attended schools that were 9 percent Black while Black students attended schools that were 48 percent Black, indicating a large difference in average Black student density nationally. When the analysis examined variation in density by region and locale, the results showed that schools in the highest density category (60 percent to 100 percent Black students) were mostly located in the South and, to a lesser extent, the Midwest and tended to be in cities. The highest percentage of schools in the lowest density category were in rural areas.

Analysis of the relationship between the percentage of students in a school who were Black and achievement showed the following:

  • Achievement for both Black and White students was lower in the highest Black student density schools than in the lowest density schools.

  • However, the achievement gap was not different.

Average percentage of students who are Black in schools, for White and Black students: 2011 graphic.

However, when accounting for factors such as student socioeconomic status (SES) and other student, teacher, and school characteristics, the analysis found:

  • White student achievement in schools with the highest Black student density did not differ from White student achievement in schools with the lowest density.

  • For Black students overall, and Black males in particular, achievement was still lower in the highest density schools than in the lowest density schools.

  • The Black–White achievement gap was larger in the highest density schools than in the lowest density schools.

  • Conducting analysis by gender, the Black–White achievement gap was larger in the highest density schools than in the lowest density schools for males but not for females.

In addition, the size of the achievement gaps within each category of Black student density was smaller when the analysis accounted for student SES and other student, teacher, and school characteristics (except in the highest density category), suggesting that these factors explained a considerable portion of the observed achievement gap.2

In a separate analysis, the report estimated the extent to which the Black–White achievement gap could be attributed to between- versus within-school differences in achievement. The value of this analysis is to inform policies that allocate resources between schools versus policies that allocate resources within schools. Results of this analysis showed that, nationally and in most of the states examined, the portion of the Black–White achievement gap attributed to within-school differences in achievement was larger than the portion attributed to between-school differences. There was, however, a portion of the gap that could not definitively be attributed to either within- or between-school differences alone. This portion was labeled “indeterminate.”

1 The category Black includes students who identified as “Black or African American.”

2​​ In the highest density schools, the reduction in the achievement gap was not statistically significant (p = .058).


Download the complete report in​ a PDF file for viewing and printing.​ PDF File (8.6 MB)​​​​

​​NCES 2015-018 See the entry in the NCES database for contact and ordering information, and for links to simila​r topics.


Suggested Citation

Bohrnstedt, G., Kitmitto, S., Ogut, B., Sherman, D., and Chan, D. (2015). School Composition and the Black–White Achievement Gap (NCES 2015-018). U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved September 24, 2015 from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch.


Last updated 29 September 2015 (DS)