Gaps of the Day: Reading and income


This is the final “Gaps of the Day” post about test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). We’ll look at the score gaps in reading by income level and see how the general trends we observed hold up.

Here are two quick reminders. First, our willingness to work on closing Minnesota’s equity gaps shouldn’t depend on whether or not they are “the biggest in the country.” Second, the NAEP scores here report income based on whether or not a student is eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRL). In reality, the effects of income on test scores occur along a continuum, not just on this “are you or aren’t you” binary distinction.

(Data from NAEP)

Let’s check out our trends.

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

True for most of the racial gaps, this wasn’t born out for math gaps by income. In reading, we can see that it’s half true: Minnesota has the 10th largest gap in the country for fourth grade. By 8th grade, however, Minnesota’s gap has shrunk to below the national average and is ranked 23rd. It’s interesting that Minnesota’s gap rank gets better from 4th to 8th grade in reading, when it got worse in math.

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

Here we see the same odd pattern observed for math gaps by income. While D.C. always had the biggest racial gaps, only its 4th grade income gaps are the biggest in the country. By 8th grade, they have falled to 16th in reading (they fell to 22nd in math).

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

This continues to hold up. For example, look at the 4th grade gaps above. North Dakota has the smallest gap in the country, but Massachusetts has the highest scores for students from underresourced backgrounds (and a much larger gap). In 8th grade, New Jersey’s gap is bigger than D.C.’s, but their scores for students from underresourced backgrounds are much higher.

The most consistent of our trends, then, is that equity concerns should be more nuanced than just relative gap size. It should also be humbling for Minnesotans to realize that, while we don’t have “the biggest” score gaps in the country, they are pretty high, and in too many cases it’s because our students of color and students from underresourced backgrounds are scoring lower than demographically similar peers elsewhere in the country.