University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Mind the Gap: Performance of All Student Subgroups in Arkansas

In The View from the OEP on June 11, 2014 at 1:33 pm

In anticipation of tomorrow’s Bridging the Gap symposium (which you can read about in a previous blog post here), we are releasing a report describing achievement gaps in Arkansas entitled Performance of All Student Subgroups in Arkansas: Moving Beyond Achievement Gaps.

imgresWhen discussing achievement gaps, we often hear some familiar and disheartening themes; minority students underperform white students, low-income students underperform non-low-income students, and much of the discussion revolves around the question of “How do we close the gap?”  While it is necessary to look at disparities between groups and to work toward lessening these disparities, having the sole goal of “narrowing the gap” can sometimes oversimplify the situation. As can be seen in the figure below, there are several different ways gaps can narrow, some of which are optimal, like when the scores of both groups increase while the score of the lower performing group increases even more, and some of which are perverse, like when the average scores of both groups decline but the score of the higher performing group declines even more. As we can see, looking at the change in the gap alone does not necessarily tell us whether progress has been made.

achievement gap

Therefore, in this analysis, we examine subgroup performance and achievement gaps over time using three different measures, all of which have their merits. First, we look at the difference between groups on scale scores, which allows us to measure student growth over time. Second, we look at the gaps between different groups on proficiency rates, which allows us to know if students have reached a threshold that experts have considered to be meaningful. Finally, we examine percentile rankings, which situate Arkansas students in translatable measures. Only by looking at performance and growth with all three of these measures do we begin to see the full picture. For this particular analysis, we used NAEP scores, a national test that is administered to all states and known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” We also use grade 3 – 8 math and literacy scores on the Arkansas Benchmark to examine performance and achievement gaps over time.

The analysis reveals nuanced results, depending on the measure that is examined (proficiency levels, scale scores, or percentile points); however, on whole the analysis confirms the following patterns:

Within Arkansas

When we compare within the state, we find that, while most groups have experienced growth over time, the gaps still remain and in many cases have widened.

  • While all subgroups experience positive growth over time, black and Hispanic students performed less well than white students on math and literacy national and state assessments. The gap between black and white students is greater than the gap between Hispanic and white students.
  • The gap between black and white students slightly decreased in respect to average scale score points on math and literacy national and state assessments; however, with respect to the percentage of students reaching proficiency cutoffs, the gap slightly increased on three national assessments (grade 4 math and grade 8 math and literacy).
  • While low-income and non-low-income subgroups experience positive growth over time on math and literacy national and state assessments, the gap between low-income and non-low-income students widened over time on the NAEP assessment and widened or remained unchanged in respect to percentile rankings on the Arkansas Benchmark assessments.

Compared to the nation

However, when we compare Arkansas to the nation as a whole, we see a slightly rosier picture, with achievement gaps slightly smaller than national averages.

  • Arkansas’ gap between black and white students and Hispanic and white students were moderately smaller than the average gaps of the nation on grade 4 and 8 math and literacy as measured by average scale scores and proficiency levels.
  • Arkansas’ gap between low-income and non-low-income students were moderately smaller than the average gap of the nation on grade 4 and 8 math and literacy as measured by average scale scores and proficiency levels.

Compared to surrounding states

When comparing to surrounding states (OK, MO, TN, MS, LA, TX), we find more mixed results. While the gaps are smaller in the 4th grade, the achievement gaps are wider in the 8th grade.

  • Arkansas’ gaps between black and white students and Hispanic and white students were moderately smaller than the gaps of the surrounding states on grade 4 math and literacy; however, on grade 8 math and literacy, Arkansas’ racial gaps were equal to slightly larger than the racial gaps of the surrounding states
  • Arkansas’ gap between low-income and non-low-income students was moderately smaller than the gaps of the surrounding states on grade 4 math and literacy; however, on grade 8 math and literacy, Arkansas’ racial gaps were equal or slightly larger than the racial gaps of the surrounding states

It’s important to remember that this report is descriptive but not prescriptive. That is, we present several ways (WITH LOTS OF GRAPHS) to visualize exactly what the disparities in performance are, but we are not setting forth any particular prescriptions for how to remedy these gaps. Lucky for you and for Arkansas’ students, if you are interested in strategies aimed at closing the achievement gap, you can attend the Achievement Gap Symposium tomorrow.

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