The 'Achievement Gap' Gets Wider, Despite Changes

New data shows that changes in education policy have not eliminated the gap between test scores of white and affluent kids compared to their classmates.

One research group says that education reforms started to narrow the gap in the 1990's, but it finds that the efforts have stalled. It also says federal programs are having no affect.

Nearly five years into the No Child Left Behind law, the inability to bridge the "achievement gap" still bedevils educators and researchers.

Educators hear the statistics all the time. But if you're a parent, or just an observer, it can be shocking to be reminded how far behind minority school-kids are in this country.

Bruce Fuller with the University of California at Berkeley says that despite years of education reform, fourth-grade black kids, on average, read about as well as white kids in second grade.

But the gap used to be worse. A UC-Berkeley study coming out Thursday quantifies the gap, saying that in the last few years, the difference in test scores has remained the same, or gotten bigger. Bruce Fuller says the race to end the achievement gap may have run out of steam.

And another study out today comes to a similar conclusion. The Northwest Evaluation Association took a different approach to the problem: The research group tracked progress in reading and math for half-a-million students, to see whether individual kids who start off at the same place gradually do worse if they are poor, black or Hispanic.

The Education Trust has been a backer of the federal "No Child Left Behind" law. But the Trust's Ross Wiener says this data raises some pretty serious questions. Take this odd fact—conventional wisdom says most kids lose ground over the summer. But Wiener says that the study found that minority kids lose less ground when they are away from school.

Critics of the No Child Left Behind law say, the persistence of this gap shows that federal policies are not working. Holly Kuzmich of the Education Department concedes, the law is supposed to raise the performance of minority kids dramatically.

But Kuzmich says that minority scores are moving up, thanks to federal requirements that all kids be tested, and that their test scores improve. It will take some time, she says, to eliminate the gap in scores. The first step, she says, is to bring the lowest performing kids up to a basic standard.

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