In this first in a series of blog posts about Black student achievement, equity, and opportunity in Pennsylvania, I examine the NAEP 4th grade mathematics and reading scores from 2015. You can read about the NAEP exams and scores at https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/
Importantly, I rely on scale scores rather than any of the proficiency groups because we lose a lot of information when we use the various performance groups instead of the scale score.
In the tables and links below, I present the results for all states for the three primary racial/ethnic groups (White, Black, Hispanic). I also disaggregate the racial/ethnic results by economically disadvantaged status defined by participation in the federal free- and reduced-price meals programs. Importantly, I rely on the NAEP statistical tool to determine if differences in scores are actually statistically significant. As many have pointed out, differences in scale scores may or may not indicate REAL differences between states.
So, how do Black students in PA perform relative to other Black students?
Grade 4 Mathematics
As shown in Table 1A, PA students from all three major racial/ethnic groups generally performed about the same as their peers across the nation. Two notable exceptions, however, stand out. In both 2003 and 2015, PA Black students had statistically significantly lower scores than their peers across the US. Interestingly, PA Black students had closed the gap between with their US peers between 2003 and 2005 and had actually started to slightly outperform their US peers by 2013, although the difference was not statistically significant. But, between 2013 and 2015, scores for PA Black students plummeted by 7 points which lead to PA Black students having a statistically significantly lower scale score than the average scale for Black students for the US. More on this later.
Table 1A: Average Scale Scores by Race/Ethnicity for the Nation and Pennsylvania
Table 1B shows the 2015 results for Pennsylvania relative to the performance of similar students in other states.. PA Black students did not outperform Black students in any state in 2015. PA Black students performed about the same as Black students in 31 states, but performed worse than Black students in 12 other states. In contrast, PA White students outperformed their peers in 19 states and underperformed their peers in only two states.
When looking at economically disadvantaged students, PA White students outperformed their peers in only one other state. PA Black (and Hispanic) students did not outperform their peers in any state. PA Black students performed worse than their peers in 13 states.
Finally, with respect to not economically disadvantaged students, PA Black students again did not outperform their peers in any states. However, PA Black students that were not economically disadvantaged only underperformed relative to their peers in 4 other states. Once again, White students outperformed their peers in 19 states.
Table 1B: Number of States with NAEP 4th Grade Mathematics Scale Scores Statistically Greater than, Equal to, or Less than Than PA Scale Scores
Link to pdf with mathematics results for all states:
Fourth Grade NAEP Math 2015
As shown in Figure 1,not economically disadvantaged Whites outperformed all other sub-populations. Interestingly, not economically disadvantaged Blacks had about the same level of achievement as economically disadvantaged Whites until 2015. Between 2013 and 2015, something fairly drastic happened that negatively impacted the scores of Black students–particularly not economically Black students.
Figure 1: PA NAEP 4th grade Mathematics Scale Score by
Race/Ethnicity and Economically Disadvantaged Status, 2003-2015
Grade 4 Reading
As shown in Table 2A, there were only a few instances in which PA students scored better or worse relative to their peers across the US. PA White students outperformed their peers in 2007 and 2011, but performed the same in all other years. PA Black students performed substantially worse than their US peers in 2003, but performed the same across all other years–including 2015. Thus, the dramatic drop in mathematics scores did not occur in reading. Schools generally have a greater impact on mathematics scores than reading scores given that reading ability if more strongly correlated to student background characteristics and a student’s home life, particularly in the formative years prior to entering school.
Table 2A: Average Scale Scores by Race/Ethnicity for the Nation and Pennsylvania
Table 2B shows the results for states. Despite scoring the same as their national peers, PA Black students in all 3 groups of (all students, economically disadvantaged students, and not economically disadvantaged students) did NOT outperform their peers in any state. However, all PA Black students and economically disadvantaged Black students underperformed their peers in 11 and 13 states, respectively. PA not economically disadvantaged students performed equally to their peers in all other states. In contrast, PA White students again outperformed their peers in 20 states.
Table 2: Number of States with NAEP 4th Grade reading Scale Scores Statistically Greater than, Equal to, or Less than Than PA Scale Scores
Link to pdf with reading results for all states:
Fourth Grade NAEP Reading 2015
As shown in Figure 2, we see the same pattern as shown in Figure 1. However, the decrease in the scores for not economically disadvantaged students was even more pronounced. Indeed, their scores dropped 17 points–clearly more than one grade level and perhaps closer to two grade levels. Another way to think about the magnitude of this drop is that a student with a similar score profile dropped from the 85th percentile to the 66th percentile in the span of two years. This is a monumental drop in scores–especially within a two year time span–and completely eliminated the strong achievement progress shown from 2003 through 2013. Of course, this is NOT the same set of students. Each 4th grade score is for a completely different set of students. but to see such huge increases and decreases is quite rare.
Figure 1: PA NAEP 4th grade Reading Scale Score by
Race/Ethnicity and Economically Disadvantaged Status, 2003-2015
While PA Black students perform on par with their peers across the nation, the fact that PA Black students do not outperform their peers in any other states and under perform their peers in around 10 other states is disheartening.
There are clear differences in student achievement between those that are eligible and not eligible for free- and reduced-price meals. Interestingly, Black students that were not economically disadvantaged scored about the same as White students that were economically disadvantaged through 2013. Then scores dropped precipitously in 2015 for some reason. I will explore these drops in another post.
Black students are a significant proportion of 4th grade students in PA–according to NAEP, about 13%. Further, the percentage of non-White students continues to increase in PA and across the US and this trend will likely accelerate rather than abate in the coming decades. PA must examine the underlying causes of the under performance of Black, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students if the Commonwealth wants to have a highly educated workforce that attracts businesses to the state. And, more importantly, we have a moral imperative to ensure EVERY child in the Commonwealth is well-educated. Failure to do so will cause long-term and irreparable issues in the future
Although we cannot attribute causes for the low performance of Black, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students, one very possible reason is the Commonwealth’s inequitable school finance system. Schools serving these students need MORE money, not less. Yet, the Commonwealth continues to adopt school finances systems that provide more revenue for wealthy White students than for other families. This must stop if we are to address the performance of our historically under-performing groups.
Other potential causes other than low-funding are: increased segregation, change in the type of schools attended (charter vs public), and change in curricula.