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Data Spotlight: What is happening with the Black-White Performance Gap in Washington?

Release Date: 

March 5, 2015

Staff member Andrew Parr made a presentation to the State Board of Education on January 8, 2015 on changes to the performance gap between White and Black students. The questions being considered here are:

  1. Is the performance gap between Black and White students in Washington narrowing or widening?
  2. How does the increasing or decreasing Black-White performance gap for Washington students compare to the other states?


To answer the study questions, SBE analyzed NAEP 4th and 8th grade reading and math assessment data from 2003 and 2013. The NAEP State Comparison online tool computes the average scaled score differences for a NAEP assessment between two administrations for the groups being compared; in this case, Black and White students. The gap differences for each of the four NAEP assessments were computed separately, averaged, and collapsed into the table and chart shown below. In this analysis, a positive value means that the average scaled score difference was greater in 2013 than 2003, but a positive value is undesirable as we would hope to see gaps narrowing over time.

The gap grew from 2003 to the 2013 administration in both math and reading for both 4th and 8th graders

*Note: Gap is the average scaled score difference on the NAEP between Black and White student groups.

Chart showing Washington's widening gap is the second largest in the U.S.


For each of the four NAEP assessments, the Black-White performance gap was larger in 2013 as compared to the performance gap in 2003. The average performance gap increase for Washington students was 4.1 scaled score points (the second largest in the United States), while the U.S. average was a 2.9 scaled score point decrease.

More about this Analysis

Even though the White-Black performance gap as measured by the NAEP assessments widened for the years analyzed, the average scaled scores for both groups increased on most measures. The data show that for each NAEP measure, the gain by the White student group is greater than the gain of the Black student group, and this causes the performance gap to widen for the years in question. For the White-Black performance gap to narrow, gains by the Black student group must exceed gains made by the White student group.

2013 NAEP data also show that the Black student group in Washington is among the highest performing of the states with reportable populations. On the 4th Grade NAEP, the Washington Black student group was ranked the 8th highest in reading and the 6th highest in math. On the 8th Grade NAEP, the Washington Black student group was ranked the 5th highest in reading and the 7th highest in math.

The NAEP assessment program provides an excellent database from which to monitor student progress, but the conclusions drawn from these data should be tempered for two important reasons:

  1. Data for 12 of the United States are not included in this analysis because the NAEP reporting standards were not met for one or both of the student groups on one or more of the NAEP assessments. The most common cause for this type of omission is an insufficient sample size from which to generalize to the population. It would be more accurate to characterize Washington’s gap widening as the second largest increase of states with reportable data.
  2. The disaggregation into additional student groups (including the Two or More student group) in 2011 has an impact on this gap analysis. The White and Black student groups are not formulated on the same criteria in 2003 as in 2013, which means that the Black student group formulated in 2003 is not perfectly comparable to the Black student group formulated in 2013. The same can be said of the White student groups for the same years.

Compared to other states, the Washington Black student group performs at a higher than average level and the student group is improving. However, even considering limitations of the data, the White-Black performance gap is unacceptably large and has not narrowed.

For more information, you can also watch the full presentation to the Board.

Media Contact: 

Alissa Muller, SBE Communications Manager, (360) 725-6501