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Test-Score Trends Along Racial Lines, 1971 to 1996: Popular Culture and Community Academic Standards

Ronald F.Ferguson

Between me and the other world, there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not the Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these, I smile…. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.

So ends the first paragraph of W.E.B.Du Bois’s classic masterpiece, The Souls of Black Folk (1903:3). Today, more than 90 years later, Black folk are still considered by some to be a problem. People approach furtively, with the same unasked question. A major reason is that Blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, and some sub-groups among Asians have lower test scores than Whites. This complicates efforts to achieve racial and ethnic balance in selective institutions. If test scores were equal, on average, among the races, there would be little need for current debates about affirmative action in college admissions. There would be no need for race norming on entry examinations for professions such as police and firefighters. Certification testing for new teachers would not so dramatically affect the racial composition of the nation’s teacher work-force. The hourly earnings gap among racial groups would be only a fraction of what it is currently. Whether we like it or not, test scores, and the skills they measure, matter.

In an act of substantial wisdom, the U.S. Congress in the late 1960s directed the U.S. Department of Education to create a nationally representative data series with which to make academic proficiency comparisons across age, gender, race/ethnicity, and time. The result was the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), administered by the Educa-



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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I 12 Test-Score Trends Along Racial Lines, 1971 to 1996: Popular Culture and Community Academic Standards Ronald F.Ferguson Between me and the other world, there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not the Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these, I smile…. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word. So ends the first paragraph of W.E.B.Du Bois’s classic masterpiece, The Souls of Black Folk (1903:3). Today, more than 90 years later, Black folk are still considered by some to be a problem. People approach furtively, with the same unasked question. A major reason is that Blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, and some sub-groups among Asians have lower test scores than Whites. This complicates efforts to achieve racial and ethnic balance in selective institutions. If test scores were equal, on average, among the races, there would be little need for current debates about affirmative action in college admissions. There would be no need for race norming on entry examinations for professions such as police and firefighters. Certification testing for new teachers would not so dramatically affect the racial composition of the nation’s teacher work-force. The hourly earnings gap among racial groups would be only a fraction of what it is currently. Whether we like it or not, test scores, and the skills they measure, matter. In an act of substantial wisdom, the U.S. Congress in the late 1960s directed the U.S. Department of Education to create a nationally representative data series with which to make academic proficiency comparisons across age, gender, race/ethnicity, and time. The result was the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), administered by the Educa-

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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I tional Testing Service (ETS) under contract with the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Before NAEP, no nationally representative data existed for making test-score comparisons across time for school-aged children. Relying heavily on data from NAEP, this chapter summarizes and offers tentative explanations for trends in reading and math scores among Black, Hispanic, and White children from the early 1970s through 1996. Neither American Indians and Alaska Natives nor Asians and Pacific Islanders was separately identified in NAEP during the period examined here and, therefore, neither of these groups is addressed. Black-White and Hispanic-White achievement test-score gaps of 30 years ago were neither genetically preordained nor otherwise immutable. The headline is that progress has occurred. Average scores for all groups are higher. Racial disparity is lower. NAEP data show that the Black-White reading-score gap for 17-year-olds narrowed 45 percent since 1971. The Hispanic-White gap narrowed 27 percent since 1975—the first year Hispanics were distinguished separately. The mean gap in math scores has fallen by 33 percent for Blacks and 35 percent for Hispanics, compared with Whites. These and other numbers show that Black and Hispanic children have made important progress since the early 1970s, both absolutely and relative to Whites.1 For Blacks especially, however, progress has been variable—at times rapid, but at other times halted or even reversed. The reasons for this variability are not clear. Changes in such areas as parenting, curriculum, teacher skill, and class size occur unevenly over time and might well be part of the story. Popular culture might be important as well The chapter begins with a review of test-score trends for Blacks, Hispanics, and Whites. The middle of the chapter tries to explain the pattern of stops and starts in progress for teenagers, especially Black teenagers. The last third of the chapter reviews some ideas and evidence about how communities of student’s peers, parents, and teachers affect education incentives and standards differently for Black youth. WHAT ARE THE TRENDS? To determine trends, the content of the NAEP trend assessments has remained virtually constant since they began for reading in 1971 and for 1   As a check on the accuracy of NAEP trends reviewed, Hedges and Nowell (1998) assembled all other nationally representative data sets since 1965 that have race-specific test scores for Black and White children. Most of these data sets are cross-sectional, not longitudinal. Hedges and Nowell focus on the difference between Blacks’ and Whites’ scores, measured in standard deviations (SD). Examining the gap across exams administered in different years, they found a narrowing of the gap, just as NAEP does.

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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I math in 1973. The other type of NAEP exam, called the “main assessment,” changes to reflect current ideas and priorities. Each trend assessment was repeated every four years through 1990; then the schedule shifted to every two years, with smaller samples. NAEP scores range from 0 to 500. Scores for 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds are all expressed on the same scale. Tables 12–1 and 12–2 show scores for reading and math. Both tables cover mean scores for Blacks, Hispanics, and Whites through 1996. In any given year, the standard deviation (SD) of scores within an age group is about 30 points for math and 40 points for reading. The standard errors (SE) of the mean scores are shown in parentheses on the tables. Trends for Nine-Year-Olds Reading scores for nine-year-olds rose mostly during the 1970s, but the increase in math scores occurred mostly in the mid-to-late 1980s. It seems almost certain that effective curricular and instructional changes focused more on reading in the 1970s and more on math in the 1980s. In support of this proposition—that instruction in different subjects was improved at different times—is the fact that reading scores declined slightly for Black and Hispanic nine-year-olds in the late 1980s at the same time that math scores improved the most. O’Day and Smith (1993) conjecture that the increased emphasis on basic skills between the late 1960s and the early 1980s contributed importantly to improvement in reading scores for all students, but especially for racial-minority students. Measures to strengthen math instruction helped all three groups of nine-year-olds to achieve roughly equal progress in the late 1980s. Changes in disparity do not follow the same general timing as changes in overall performance. All of the catching up with Whites that Black nine-year-olds achieved was done by 1986 for math and 1988 for reading (Table 12–2). After that, Blacks lost a little ground but regained it by 1996. For reading, Hispanic-White disparity follows a pattern similar to the Black-White disparity, but there is a strangely unstable pattern for math. It seems likely that the composition of the Hispanic student sample was changing in ways that, for the broad group, make these comparisons over time less dependable. For Blacks, however, it is noteworthy that reductions in Black-White disparity follow a similar time pattern for both reading and math. This suggests that the factors helping Blacks narrow the gap on one subject, also helped in the other. I have shown elsewhere (Ferguson, 1998b) that Black-White disparity in reading and math scores for nine-year-olds follows the same nonlinear trajectory as national reductions in pupil-to-teacher ratios for elementary schools. Not only do inflection points match closely when class-size and

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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I Black-White disparity are graphed, but multiple regression lines fit well even after including a separate control for a linear trend (see Ferguson, 1998b, Figure 9–4). One might expect this association between test-score disparity and class size if (1) reducing class size helps Black students more than White students or (2) class sizes fell more in schools where Blacks attend. It appears that both are true for the period since 1970. First, the proposition that smaller classes help students learn was tested in the Tennessee Star Experiment conducted in the 1980s, the largest random-assignment study ever done to test that theory. Roughly 6,500 students in 80 schools were assigned randomly to either small (13 to 17 students) or large (22 to 25 students) classes. Estimated benefits of small classes were larger for Black than for White students and larger in inner-city schools. Second, elementary pupil-to-teacher ratios fell nationally by roughly 25 percent between 1970 and 1990 (National Center for Education Statistics, 1996b). Moreover, class sizes appear to have been reduced more for Blacks than for Whites. When Coleman (1966) conducted the classic study Equality of Educational Opportunity, class sizes were still somewhat larger for Blacks than for Whites. By 1990, national data show no overall differences in pupil-to-teacher ratios by race (Black/ White) or by socioeconomic status, as measured by the percentage of students eligible for free-and-reduced lunch subsidies.2 Certainly, more than class size was changing over this period in the schooling of nine-year-olds. Civil rights gains and positive changes in family educational background might be important as well (Grissmer et al., 1998). Nonetheless, it appears quite likely that class-size reductions that affected Blacks (and perhaps Hispanics) more than Whites are part of the explanation for reductions in Black-White test-score disparity from 1970 through the late 1980s. Despite this evidence, there is an active debate among researchers about whether class size matters at all. My reading of the evidence (Ferguson, 1998b) is that it does, at least for elementary schools. However, Hanushek (1998), Krueger (1997), and Greenwald et al. (1996) argue on various sides of the debate. 2   See Ferguson (1998b, Table 9–11) for the author’s calculations for 1987–1992 using the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data Surveys, School-Level file. Nationally, the pupil-to-teacher ratio was between 17 and 18, independent of the percentage of Black students or the percentage qualifying for free-and-reduced lunch subsidies. (Note that actual class sizes tend to be about 25 percent larger than pupil-to-teacher ratios because teachers have periods off during the day for planning and lunch.) Some authors (e.g., Boozer and Rouse, 1995) suggest that this apparent parity masks differences in class size among students with similar needs. Though a distinct and important possibility, this remains to be established in nationally representative samples.

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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I TABLE 12–1 NAEP Scores for Black, Hispanic, and White 9-, 13-, and 17-Year-Olds A. Reading Scores, 1971 Through 1996   Age 1971 1975 1980 1984 1988 1990 1992 1994 1996 Black 17 238.7 (1.7) 240.6 (2.0) 243.1 (1.8) 264.3 (1.0) 274.4 (2.4) 267.3 (2.3) 260.6 (2.1) 266.2 (3.9) 265.4 (2.7) 13 224.4 (1.2) 225.7 (1.3) 232.8 (1.5) 236.3 (1.2) 242.9 (2.4) 241.5 (2.2) 237.6 (2.3) 234.3 (2.4) 235.6 (2.6) 9 170.1 (1.7) 181.2 (1.2) 189.3 (1.8) 185.7 (1.4) 188.5 (2.4) 181.8 (2.9) 184.5 (2.2) 185.4 (2.3) 190.0 (2.7) Hispanic 17 n.a. 252.4 (3.6) 261.4 (2.7) 268.1 (4.3) 270.8 (4.3) 274.8 (3.6) 271.2 (3.7) 263.2 (4.9) 264.7 (4.1) 13 n.a. 232.5 (3.0) 237.2 (2.0) 239.6 (2.0) 240.1 (3.5) 237.8 (2.3) 239.2 (3.5) 235.1 (1.9) 239.9 (2.9) 9 n.a 182.7 (2.2) 190.2 (2.3) 187.1 (3.1) 193.7 (3.5) 189.4 (2.3) 191.7 (3.1) 185.9 (3.9) 194.1 (3.5) White 17 291.4 (1.0) 293.0 (0.6) 292.8 (0.9) 295.2 (0.7) 294.7 (1.2) 296.6 (1.2) 297.4 (1.4) 295.7 (1.5) 294.4 (1.2) 13 260.9 (0.7) 262.1 (0.7) 264.4 (0.7) 262.5 (0.6) 261.3 (1.1) 262.3 (0.9) 266.4 (1.2) 265.1 (1.1) 267.0 (1.0) 9 214.0 (0.9) 216.6 (0.7) 221.3 (0.8) 218.2 (0.9) 217.7 (1.4) 217.0 (1.3) 217.9 (1.0) 218.0 (1.3) 219.9 (1.2)

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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I B. Math Scores, 1973 Through 1996   Age 1973 1978 1982 1986 1990 1992 1994 1996   Black 17 270.0 (1.3) 268.4 (1.3) 271.8 (1.2) 278.6 (2.1) 288.5 (2.8) 285.8 (2.2) 285.5 (1.8) 286.4 (1.7)   13 228.0 (1.9) 229.6 (1.9) 240.4 (1.6) 249.2 (2.3) 249.1 (2.3) 250.2 (1.9) 251.5 (3.5) 252.1 (1.3)   9 190.0 (1.8) 192.4 (1.1) 194.9 (1.6) 201.6 (1.6) 208.4 (2.2) 208.0 (2.0) 212.1 (1.6) 211.6 (1.4)   Hispanic 17 277.0 (2.2) 276.3 (2.3) 276.7 (1.8) 283.1 (2.9) 283.5 (2.9) 292.2 (2.6) 290.8 (3.7) 292.0 (2.1)   13 239.0 (2.2) 238.0 (2.0) 252.4 (1.7) 254.3 (2.9) 254.6 (1.8) 259.3 (1.8) 256.0 (1.9) 255.7 (1.6)   9 202.0 (2.4) 202.9 (2.2) 204.0 (1.3) 205.4 (2.1) 213.8 (2.1) 211.9 (2.3) 209.9 (2.3) 214.7 (1.7)   White 17 310.0 (1.1) 305.9 (0.9) 303.7 (0.9) 307.5 (1.0) 309.5 (1.0) 311.9 (0.8) 312.3 (1.1) 313.4 (1.4)   13 274.0 (0.9) 271.6 (0.8) 272.4 (1.0) 273.6 (1.3) 276.3 (1.1) 278.9 (0.9) 280.8 (0.9) 281.2 (0.9)   9 225.0 (1.0) 224.1 (0.9) 224.0 (1.1) 226.9 (1.1) 235.2 (0.8) 235.1 (0.8) 236.8 (1.0) 236.9 (1.0)   Note: Standard errors (SE) of mean scores are shown in parentheses. SOURCE: National Assessment of Educational Progress (1996).

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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I TABLE 12–2 NAEP Score Gaps and Percentage of Gap Remaining A. Gaps in Reading Scores   White-Black Gap White-Hispanic Gap   17-year-olds 13-year-olds 9-year-olds 17-year-olds 13-year-olds 9-year-olds 1971 52.7 36.5 43.9 n.a. n.a. n.a. 1975 52.4 36.4 35.4 40.6 29.6 33.9 1980 49.7 31.6 32.0 31.4 27.2 31.1 1984 30.9 26.2 32.5 27.1 22.9 31.1 1888 20.3 18.4 29.2 23.9 21.2 24.0 1990 29.3 20.8 35.2 21.8 24.5 27.6 1992 36.8 28.8 33.4 26.2 27.2 26.2 1994 29.5 30.8 32.6 32.5 30.0 32.1 1996 29.0 31.4 29.9 29.7 27.1 25.8   Percentage of the 1971 Gap Remaining Percentage of the 1975 Gap Remaining 1971 100.0 100.0 100.0 n.a. n.a. n.a. 1975 99.4 99.7 80.6 100.0 100.0 100.0 1980 94.3 86.6 72.9 77.3 91.9 91.7 1984 58.6 71.8 74.0 66.7 77.4 91.7 1888 38.5 50.4 66.5 58.9 71.6 70.8 1990 55.6 57.0 80.2 53.7 82.8 81.4 1992 69.8 78.9 76.1 64.5 91.9 77.3 1994 56.0 84.4 74.3 80.0 101.4 94.7 1996 55.0 86.0 68.1 73.2 91.6 76.1 Trends in Learning After Age Nine The fact that Black and Hispanic children reach the age of nine with fewer math and reading skills on average than Whites is mostly because Black and Hispanic children begin school with fewer skills. Once enrolled in school there is the chance that Black and Hispanic children could learn more than Whites but still have lower levels of skill because they start so far behind. We know that, on average, Black and Hispanic four-and five-year-olds score lower on tests of school readiness than Whites and lower on exams in early school years (Phillips et al., 1998a, 1998b). Phillips et al. (1998b) use a congressionally mandated, nationally representative, longitudinal data set called Prospects. Data collection began in 1991 for three birth cohorts—one in the first grade, one in the third grade, and one in the seventh grade. Phillips et al. conclude from their analysis of the Prospects data that Blacks appear to have learned less than Whites during the 1990s. Indeed, data from NAEP suggest the same; however,

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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I B. Gaps in Math Scores   White-Black Gap White-Hispanic Gap   17-year-olds 13-year-olds 9-year-olds 17-year-olds 13-year-olds 9-year-olds 1973 40.0 46.0 35.0 33.0 35.0 23.0 1978 37.5 42.0 31.7 29.6 33.6 21.2 1982 31.9 32.0 29.1 27.0 20.0 20.0 1986 28.9 24.4 25.3 24.4 19.3 21.5 1990 21.0 27.2 26.8 26.0 21.7 21.4 1992 26.1 28.7 27.1 19.7 19.6 23.2 1994 26.8 29.3 24.7 21.5 24.8 26.9 1996 27.0 29.1 25.3 21.4 25.5 22.2   Percentage of 1973 Gap Remaining Percentage of 1973 Gap Remaining 1973 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 1978 93.8 91.3 90.6 89.7 96.0 92.2 1982 79.7 69.6 83.1 81.8 57.1 87.0 1986 72.2 53.0 72.3 73.9 55.1 93.5 1990 52.5 59.1 76.6 78.8 62.0 93.0 1992 65.2 62.4 77.4 59.7 56.0 100.9 1994 67.0 63.7 70.6 65.2 70.9 117.0 1996 67.5 63.3 72.3 64.8 72.9 96.5   SOURCE: National Assessment of Educational Progress (1996). NAEP data for the 1970s and 1980s tell a different story. For the 1970s and 1980s, both Black and Hispanic gains appear much of the time to be greater than those for Whites. Hence, the answer to whether Blacks or Hispanics learn more or less than Whites during the school years may differ across time. ETS selects a new NAEP sample each year, so children tested at one age from a particular birth cohort are not the same as those tested from the same birth cohort four years later. Nonetheless, data showing differences between 9- (or 13-) year-olds’ scores one year and 13- (or 17-) year-olds’ scores four years later provide the best nationally representative approximations available for measuring learning gains from ages 9 to 13 and 13 to 17, and measuring changes over time (see Figure 12–1). Of course, using NAEP in this way only makes sense if we assume that children tested at, for example, age 13, had roughly the same distribution of scores at age 9 as the members of their cohort that NAEP actu-

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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I ally tested at age 9. This seems likely, since NAEP samples are constructed to be nationally representative. Still, using NAEP for this type of approximation is necessarily imperfect for three reasons: (1) the 17-year-old sample does not cover dropouts; (2) the 13- and 17-year-old samples include recent immigrants who, of course, were not tested four years earlier; and (3) NAEP does not test children labeled as having learning disorders. The first two of these three reasons are probably greater problems for data for Hispanic students than for Blacks or Whites because the Hispanic dropout rate is higher, as is the Hispanic immigration rate. (The interval properties I assume below for comparing test score gains are probably only appropriate for comparing intervals where the average scores are very similar. I do not assume, for example, that a gain of say 20 points, from 170 to 190 for 9-year-olds, represents the same amount of learning or degree of difficulty as a 20-point gain, from say 250 to 270, for 17-year-olds. No such comparisons across disparate ranges are necessary for the way that I use the scores.) Tables 12–1 and 12–2, along with Figure 12–1, represent a fairly complete summary of trends for reading and math scores over the past few decades. There is too much here to discuss it all in detail. However, there is one pattern that deserves special attention. Specifically, the test-score pattern for Black students who were age 9 in 1984 is a fascinating anomaly. As 13-year-olds in 1988, this cohort had scores that were closer to White children’s than for any other cohort of 13-year-old Blacks. Indeed, the difference between Black and White 13-year-olds in 1988 was less than half the difference that existed for the same age group in 1971. After 1988, however, by the time that they were 17 years old, the gap between Blacks and Whites in the cohort more than doubled. This represents a marked deceleration in academic progress both absolutely and relative to Whites and Hispanics. It is typical in statistical time series for rapid advancements to be followed by “corrective” periods of slower growth (i.e., regression to the mean). I cannot rule out that this accounts for some of the pattern; however, I suspect something more fundamental was happening. To investigate further, I examined unpublished NAEP data that give breakouts by region, type of community, type of school, and parents’ education. For this cohort of Black children, the pattern of rapid progress from ages 9 to 13, followed by very slow progress from ages 13 to 17, shows up for all four census regions, all four types of communities, public and nonpublic schools, and all three levels of parents’ education! The fact that it shows up for both public and nonpublic schools suggests that the explanation is not some fundamental change in public school policies or practices. Further, this period shows the biggest ever gain for Whites from ages 13 to 17, which also suggests that something other than school

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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I FIGURE 12–1 Standardized NAEP (A) reading and (B) math scores for Black 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds (Metric=S.D.’s below 17-year-old Whites’ 1996 mean). Labels on lines give the year that the tests were taken.

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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I FIGURE 12–1 Standardized NAEP (C) reading and (D) math scores for Hispanic 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds (Metric=S.D.’s below 17-year-old Whites’ 1996 mean). Labels on lines give the year that the tests were taken.

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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I high schools in Wisconsin and San Francisco during the 1980s.4 It provides a striking illustration of the fact that parental standards can differ by race and parents’ education. Students were asked, “What is the lowest grade you can get without your parents getting upset?” The mean answer was between C and C+, with a standard deviation of about one marking level (e.g., the difference between C+ and B-). The most outstanding feature of Figure 12–4 is the performance Asian students perceive that their parents hold them accountable for; it is a higher level of performance than the other student groups perceive is expected of them. Asians whose parents are high school dropouts report higher grade-level thresholds for provoking parental anger than do White, Black, or Hispanic students whose parents have four-year college degrees. Conversely, Black students whose parents are college graduates report, on average, almost the same parental standards as Whites whose parents are high school graduates and have not attended college at all. If teachers, parents, and peers hold Black and sometimes Hispanic students to lower standards than Whites and Asians, part of the reason is that Black and Hispanic students have historically performed at lower levels. But this can change. Especially when help is available, students tend to strive at least for the minimum standards that people around them set. National surveys show that students of all racial groups think the standards are too low. WHAT STUDENTS THINK ABOUT THEIR SCHOOLS Trends in NAEP indicate that achievement scores have risen over the past three decades. Presumably, minimum standards have risen as well. A nationally representative survey of high school students conducted in 1996, however, indicates that neither Black, Hispanic, nor White students feel that standards are high enough (Public Agenda, 1997). The survey covered 1,000 randomly selected high school students, plus another 1,120 over-sample interviews for Blacks, Hispanics, private high school students, middle school students, and students from two metropolitan areas. Tables 12–7 through 12–9 present selected items from the report. For the most part, I have selected items that show racial differences or items that have direct bearing on the question of standards. Fifty-six percent of Black students, 45 percent of Hispanic students, 4   The numbers in Figure 12–3 come from a multiyear project by Laurence Steinberg, B. Bradford Brown, and Sanford Dornbusch. The project produced a number of papers, but many of their findings are summarized in a book by Steinberg (1996). The tabulations in Figure 12–3 are my own, using the raw data graciously provided by Steinberg.

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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I TABLE 12–7 Percent Responding That the Problem Is “Very Serious” or “Somewhat Serious” in Their School (Question: Here are some problems different schools could have. Please tell me how serious a problem this is in your school.)   High School Students   Whites Blacks Hispanics Private School Too many teachers are doing a bad job 36 56 45 22 Not enough emphasis on the basics such as reading, writing and math 30 49 41 16 Too many kids get passed to the next grade when they should be held back 41 58 49 16 Too many students get away with being late to class and not doing their work 49 58 50 35 Students pay too much attention to what they’re wearing and not what they look like 73 81 79 42 Classes are too crowded 42 52 45 14   SOURCE: Public Agenda (1997, Table 4). Reprinted with permission from Public Agenda, New York. and 36 percent of White students reported “Too many teachers are doing a bad job” is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem in their school (Table 12–7). Items related to “doing a bad job” included not emphasizing basics such as reading, writing, and math; passing students to the next grade when they should be held back; and allowing students to get away with being late to class and not doing their work. More Black than Hispanic students and more Hispanic than White students report these to be problems. It appears either that Black students have higher standards for their schools (which seems unlikely) or that Black students receive a lower standard of instruction. Students in the private school sample, which is not differentiated by race, report far fewer of these problems than do students in public schools.

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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I TABLE 12–8 Percent Responding That the Proposed Change Would Get Them to Learn “a Lot More” (Question: Now I’m going to read a list of things that might get you to learn more and ask if you think they’ll really work. Remember, I’m not asking if you like these ideas, only if you think they will actually get you to learn more.)   High School Students   Whites Blacks Hispanics Private School Having more good teachers 60 75 69 74 Getting your class work checked and redoing it until it’s right 58 74 69 61 Kicking constant troublemakers out of class so teachers can concentrate on the kids who want to learn 50 66 58 50 Knowing that more companies in your area are using high school transcripts to decide who to hire 48 62 49 46 Knowing you’ll get something you want from your parents if you do well 27 43 44 27   SOURCE: Public Agenda (1997, Table 5). Reprinted with permission from Public Agenda, New York. Sixty-two percent of Blacks, 49 percent of Hispanics, and 48 percent of Whites say they would learn “a lot more” if they knew that companies in the area were using high school transcripts to decide whom to hire (Table 12–8). Other measures that might get them to learn “a lot more” include having more good teachers, having work checked and then redoing it, removing chronic troublemakers from class, and receiving material incentives from parents. Answers on each of these questions indicate that children of all three racial groups believe they could learn a lot more than they currently do. Table 12–9 lists 10 characteristics of effective teachers, and whether students believe that “most” of their current teachers have these characteristics. A majority of students respond that teachers with any of 9

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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I TABLE 12–9 Percent Responding That Certain Kinds of Teachers Would Lead Them to Learn “a Lot More”/Percent Responding “Most” of Their Teachers Are Like That Item Now (Question: Now I’m going to talk about different kinds of teachers and ask you if you think they lead you to learn more or not.)   High School Students   Whites Blacks Hispanics Private School A teacher who tries to make lessons fun and interesting 79/25 76/25 78/23 84/39 A teacher who is enthusiastic and exited about the subject they teach 71/29 71/28 72/32 71/32 A teacher who knows a lot about the subject they teach 70/47 74/49 72/47 77/63 A teacher who treats students with respect 68/42 75/37 68/50 73/63 A teacher who gives students a lot of individual help with their work 67/33 76/31 69/31 78/51 A teacher who uses hands-on projects and class discussion 68/23 67/31 68/19 70/33 A teacher who explains lessons very carefully 64/33 72/38 72/35 71/48 A teacher who challenges students to constantly do better and learn more 63/33 79/42 69/36 74/51 A teacher who personally cares about his students as people 62/30 68/31 66/31 71/58 A teacher who knows how to handle disruptive students 45/28 52/35 44/35 52/44   SOURCE: Public Agenda (1997, Table 11). Reprinted with permission from Public Agenda, New York.

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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I characteristics (the exception is “knows how to handle disruptive students”) could inspire them to learn “a lot more.” For all characteristics, no public-school students reported that most of their teachers had the characteristics listed. On the other hand, for 5 of the 10 characteristics, a majority of private-school students say that most of their teachers fit the description. For most of the items in Table 12–9, Black and Hispanic students rate their teachers higher on average than White students rate theirs. How do we reconcile this with Table 12–7, where larger percentages of Black and Hispanic than White students report that too many teachers are doing a bad job? One possibility is that schools serving Black and Hispanic students have a larger percentage of dedicated teachers and a larger percentage of teachers doing a bad job. Another possibility is that Black and Hispanic students have lower threshold standards than Whites do for judging teachers, so that Blacks would rate any given teacher performance higher than Whites would. If this latter interpretation is closer to correct, then it is even more a problem that a larger percentage of Black and Hispanic than White students agree that “too many teachers are doing a bad job.” The correct interpretation is impossible to glean from these data, but the issues are important, and the Public Agenda survey has at least begun to inform the discussion. The Public Agenda survey results as well as the more extended discussion of standards-related issues above, suggest that children can do more than we are asking of them. Moreover, they know it. It appears that standards of effort and performance for Black and Hispanic students, and perhaps for teachers and parents as well, are lower than what will be required to avoid a future of continued racial disparity in academic achievement. We have underestimated children’s potentials. We can and should produce a larger harvest. CONCLUSION Children’s knowledge includes what they already know before arriving at school and what they learn once there. The average Black or Hispanic child in the United States has fewer school-related skills than the average White child at the beginning of kindergarten. This is true even among households that appear equal in parental schooling and socioeconomic status [see Chapters 4 and 7 in Jencks and Phillips (1998)]. Once a child enters school already less proficient than his peers, catching up requires more than keeping up; equal progress merely maintains initial disparities. Basic skill gaps among White, Black, and Hispanic children, as measured by standardized test scores, have narrowed substantially over the past 30 years. Large gaps remain, but more progress is possible if we set

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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I high standards and do what it takes to achieve them. If we care about equality of results, then we must face the fact that catching up requires running faster than the competition: the only way for Black and Hispanic students in a given birth cohort to narrow the gap with Whites during the school years is for them to learn more than Whites do. Although NAEP cannot measure changes in proficiency between school entry and age nine, data from NAEP suggest that Black and Hispanic children often have learned more than Whites after age nine, but not for all time periods, and not enough to come even close to closing the test-score gap. Accelerating progress on closing these gaps can be facilitated by a more supportive popular culture, by teachers and parents who set high standards, and by a society that provides the necessary resources and incentives to keep it all on track. Responsive teaching can weaken the link between past and future performance for an individual child. Similarly, a responsive and determined society can change prospects for large numbers of children— of all races and ethnicities—whose potential otherwise might be wasted. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This paper was initially prepared for the National Research Council Conference on Racial Trends in the United States, held October 15 and 16, 1998, at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. Work on the paper has benefited from the financial support of the Annie E.Casey Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T.MacArthur Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation, through their support for the National Community Development Policy Analysis Network Project on Education and Youth in Community Development. Jordana Brown helped to collect the materials on which this paper is based and has provided helpful comments that improved the paper. William T.Dickens, Christopher Jencks, and Meredith Phillips also provided helpful comments. APPENDIX TRENDS IN SCHOLASTIC APTITUDE TEST SCORES Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores represent that segment of the high school population planning to apply to colleges where the SAT is required in the application. Hence, SAT scores and trends are not based on a random sample of all students. Further, characteristics of the sample, such as what percentage of students it represents, change over time. Still, SAT does provide a national time series of scores with which to compare the NAEP scores. Figure 12–A shows changes since 1976 in SAT scores for Blacks, Mexicans, and Whites. (Note that Mexicans’ scores for the SAT

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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I FIGURE 12–A Changes since 1976 in SAT (A) verbal and (B) math scores by racial/ethnic background (three-year moving averages). SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics (1996a, Table 128).

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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I are for a smaller segment of the Hispanic population than NAEP because NAEP includes additional Hispanic nationalities. Do not assume close comparability.) All three groups achieved higher scores in math during the 1980s. (College enrollment rates for new high school graduates during the mid-to-late 1980s were rising.) This is consistent with trends in the NAEP. The similarity of math trends for different racial groups and across both NAEP and SAT indicates that there was probably a narrow range of forces causing the changes across the board. These probably included changes in course-taking, curriculum, and instruction. For both NAEP and SAT, verbal scores are more variable than math, with less of a common pattern across groups. However, just as with NAEP, the most salient thing to notice about Blacks in these two figures is that both verbal and math progress stops abruptly at the end of the 1980s, after a decade of rapid improvement. REFERENCES Ainsworth-Darnell, J., and D.Downey 1998 Assessing the oppositional-culture explanation for racial/ethnic differences in school performance. American Sociological Review 60(4):536–553. Belluck, P. 1999 Reason is sought for lag by blacks in school effort. New York Times (July 4):1. Berry, V., and H.Looney, Jr. 1996 Rap music, black men, and the police. In Mediated Messages and African American Culture: Contemporary Issues, V.Berry and C.Manning-Miller, eds. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications. Boozer, M., and C.Rouse 1995 Intraschool variation in class size: Patterns and implications. Working paper No. 5144. National Bureau of Economic Research. Brophy, J. 1985 Teacher-student interaction. In Teacher Expectancies, J.Dusek, ed. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Casteel, C. 1997 Attitudes of African American and Caucasian eighth grade students about praises, rewards, and punishments. Elementary School Guidance and Counseling 31(April):262–272. Coleman, J., and E.Campbell, et al. 1966 Equality of Educational Opportunity. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. Commission on Minority Participation in Education and American Life 1988 One-Third of a Nation. Washington, D.C.: American Council on Education/Education Commission of the States. Cook, P., and J.Ludwig 1997 Weighing the burden of “acting white”: Are there race differences in attitudes toward education? Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 16(2):656–678. 1998 The burden of “acting white”: Do black adolescents disparage academic achievement? In The Black-White Test Score Gap, C.Jencks and M.Phillips, eds. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.

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