Gaps of the Day: Math and income


Having concluded our examination of racial gaps in National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores, we’re moving on to income gaps on the same tests. Then it’s on to graduation rates, and then we’ll move into some non-education equity gaps.

(Standard disclaimer: Our willingness and energy to address Minnesota’s equity gaps should not depend on Minnesota having “the biggest” or “one of the biggest” gaps relative to other states.)

(Data from NAEP)

These are the math gaps by income. With the NAEP, this means comparing the test scores of students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) with those who are not eligible (non-FRL). This obscures important differences, since the FRL qualifications cover everything from a student who is homeless to a family of four making $43,500 a year. There are appreciable gaps between students receiving free lunch (up to 130% of the federal poverty line) and those receiving reduced price lunch (above 130%, up to 185%). Income effects occur on a continuum, not the binary FRL/non-FRL used here, and also depend on neighborhood/community conditions.

With all of that said, let’s return to the trends we’ve observed (with some exceptions) up through this point.

Trend 1: Minnesota has one of the ten largest test score gaps in the country.

Mostly true for the racial gaps (the only exception being the 8th grade reading gap between white and Hispanic students), this is not true so far for income. Minnesota’s income score gap is the 18th largest in the country for 4th grade math (and below the national gap), and 13th largest for 8th grade math (larger than the national average, but with higher scores for both students who are FRL eligible and those who are not).

Trend 2: D.C. has the highest test score gap in the country.

Completely true until now, this is only half true here. D.C.’s gap falls from biggest in the country in 4th grade to 22nd largest in the country in 8th grade (below the national gap). As you may remember, D.C.’s gap size has been a combination of very high scores for the privileged group and low scores for the underprivileged group. The high scores for the privileged group collapse between 4th and 8th grade, shrinking the gap size.

Trend 3: Concerns about equity should include performance as well as gap size.

Still true. Combining two examples from 8th grade, Minnesota’s gap is larger than the D.C.’s, but its scores are appreciably higher for both groups.

As a final note, race and income are obviously intersecting issues in the United States. We’ll do some more exploration of that in relation to these scores next time.