The Black-White achievement gap: Do state policies matter?


  • Henry I. Braun Educational Testing Service
  • Aubrey Wang School District of Philadelphia
  • Frank Jenkins Westat, Inc.
  • Elliot Weinbaum University of Pennsylvania



achievement gap, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), state education policies, hierarchical analyses.


A longstanding issue in American education is the gap in academic achievement between majority and minority students. The goal of this study is to accumulate and evaluate evidence on the relationship between state education policies and changes in the Black-White achievement gap, while addressing some of the methodological issues that have led to differences in interpretations of earlier findings. To that end, we consider the experiences of ten states that together enroll more than forty percent of the nation's Black students. We estimate the trajectories of Black student and White student achievement on the NAEP 8th grade mathematics assessment over the period 1992 to 2000, and examine the achievement gap at three levels of aggregation: the state as a whole, groups of schools (strata) within a state defined by the SES level of the student population, and within schools within a stratum within a state. From 1992 to 2000, at every level of aggregation, mean achievement rose for both Black students and White students. However, for most states the achievement gaps were large and changed very little at every level of aggregation. The gaps are pervasive, profound and persistent. There is substantial heterogeneity among states in the types of policies they pursued, as well as the coherence and consistency of those policies during the period 1988-1998. We find that states' overall policy rankings (based on our review of the data) correlate moderately with their record in improving Black student achievement but are somewhat less useful in predicting their record with respect to reducing the achievement gaps. States' rankings on commitment to teacher quality correlate almost as well as did the overall policy ranking. Thus, state reform efforts are a blunt tool, but a tool nonetheless. Our findings are consistent with the following recommendations: states' reform efforts should be built on broad-based support and buffered as much as possible from changes in budgets and politics; states should employ the full set of policy levers at their disposal; and policies should directly support local reform efforts with proven effectiveness in addressing the experiences of students of different races attending the same schools.


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Author Biographies

Henry I. Braun, Educational Testing Service

Dr. Henry Braun, a Distinguished Presidential Appointee at ETS, has published in the areas of probability, stochastic modeling and empirical Bayes methods. He is a co-winner of the Palmer O. Johnson award from AERA (1986) and a co-winner of the NCME award for Outstanding Technical Contributions to the Field of Educational Measurement (1991). His current interests include the interplay of technology and assessment, design science, evaluation methodology, the analysis of large-scale assessment data and education policy.

Aubrey Wang, School District of Philadelphia

Aubrey H. Wang is a program evaluator at the School District of Philadelphia and the current President of the Chinese American Educational Research and Development Association. Her research interests include educational policy and practice in closing the achievement gap.

Frank Jenkins, Westat, Inc.

Frank Jenkins is a senior statistician at WESTAT, Inc, where he directs analyses of various educational and health studies involving hierarchical nesting of subjects. At ETS he worked on NAEP evaluations with particular emphasis on psychometric issues and hierarchical linear models. He has also developed Bayesian models for analyzing multivariate performance assessments.

Elliot Weinbaum, University of Pennsylvania

Elliot Weinbaum is a researcher at the Consortium for Policy Research in Education at the University of Pennsylvania. His research interests include intergovernmental relationships and policy-making, performance-based accountability, and the impacts of policy on school improvement. He is currently an investigator in a national study of high schools and the roles that outside organizations play in high schools' strategies to improve instruction.




How to Cite

Braun, H. I. ., Wang, A., Jenkins, F., & Weinbaum, E. (2006). The Black-White achievement gap: Do state policies matter?. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 14, 8.