Achievement gap persists, even among high-performing students, report says

African-American, Latino and low-income students who start high school performing near the top of their class fall behind other high-achieving peers by the time they graduate, according to a report released Wednesday that offers a new window on entrenched achievement gaps in high school.

The report from Washington, D.C.-based Education Trust looked at students nationwide who scored in the top 25 percent on math and English tests in their sophomore year. Despite the strong start, the report found that the high-achievers from low-income families, as well as those who were black and Latino, graduated with lower GPAs, posted lower scores on the SAT and ACT, and had lower passage rates on rigorous Advanced Placement exams than high-achieving white students or students from more advantaged backgrounds. High-achieving students of color were also less likely to enroll in selective colleges than their white peers, the report said.

By focusing on the high performers, the report, called “Falling out of the Lead,” offers a different take on educational disparities that exist along racial and socio-economic lines, report authors said. The report is part of an EdTrust series called Shattering Expectations, which focuses on achievement gaps among high-achieving students.

“We’re confronted with educational inequity data all the time, and a lot of people assume we can blame those inequitable outcomes on differences in preparation that students exhibit at the outset,” said report co-author Marni Bromberg, a research associate at Ed Trust, which advocates for education equity. “… We really examine students who arrive at high school already exhibiting academic success. These are the most ready to pursue really advanced and rigorous coursework, and we’re still seeing inequitable outcomes.”

African-American and Latino students pass Advanced Placement exams at lower rates than white students, according to a new report from Education Trust. Source: Falling out of the Lead, April 2014 report from EdTrust

African-American and Latino students pass Advanced Placement exams at lower rates than white students, according to a new report from Education Trust. Scores also varied by students’ socio-economic status (SES). (Click to enlarge) Source: Falling out of the Lead, April 2014 report from EdTrust

The report held “good news and bad,” Bromberg said. For instance, high-achieving students from all racial groups have similar access to advanced coursework at their campuses, she said. However, black, Latino and low-income students are less likely to perform well in those courses than white students.

Additional findings:

  • Passage rates of Advanced Placement tests varied among the high-performers. White students passed 68 percent of all AP tests they took, compared with 51 percent for Latino students and 36 percent of African-American students.
  • High-achieving African-American and Latino students are less likely to take the SAT or ACT exam than white students, and scored, on average, about 100 points lower.
  • Black and Latino students also earned lower grade point averages, which studies have said are a greater predictor of college success than SAT or ACT scores. The average high-achieving African-American student has a 2.9 GPA, while Latinos post a 2.97. That’s compared with 3.24 for the average high-achieving white student.


The analysis is based on data from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002, which follows sophomores through high school and into college. The 2002 study is the most recent available that provides longitudinal, nationally representative data on students.

The report did not delve into individual campus differences that could contribute to the variances in student performance, but Bromberg said the findings suggest that students are experiencing different levels of instructional quality and support from teachers and administrators. The report includes interviews with five high-achieving, low-income students throughout the country on their educational experiences in high school. While not a representative sample, the students reported a wide variety in the quality of their courses, the academic support they received from adults in their school, and help in applying for college. “What holds a lot of students back is people tell them ‘No,'” one student told researchers.

The report also includes a case study on Columbus Alternative High School in Ohio, which promotes a “college-going culture” for all students, to provide lessons on how schools can better serve high-achieving students from all backgrounds.

“When people talk about closing the achievement gap, they really think about bringing the bottom up,” Bromberg said. “That’s an important part, but really closing the achievement gap is about equity all along the achievement spectrum.”

Michelle Maitre covers career and college readiness. Contact her and follow her on Twitter @michelle_maitre. Sign up here for a no-cost online subscription to EdSource Today for reports from the largest education reporting team in California.

Filed under: College & Careers, College Readiness, Testing and Accountability


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6 Responses to “Achievement gap persists, even among high-performing students, report says”

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  1. James P. Scanlan on Apr 23, 2014 at 2:34 pm04/23/2014 2:34 pm

    • 000

    The premise of the Education Trust report is that one would expect members of advantaged and disadvantaged groups who are in the top 25 percent of all students to perform approximately equally. That premise reflect a failure to understand essential properties of normal distributions.

    Groups that are less likely than other groups to be among the top quarter of all students will be disproportionately represented in the lower segments within the top quarter and hence can be expected to have lower achievement rates on most indicators within that population. Further, the differences in rates at which different groups within the top 25 percent reached certain levels of academic success can be predicted fairly accurately on the basis of the groups’ rates of being in the high-achieving population.

    The report shows that 6 percent of blacks 35 percent of whites were in the top quarter of test takers. That suggests that mean scores of blacks and whites differ by about 1.16 standard deviations. Thirty-four percent of high-achieving whites attended a highly selective university (11.9 percent of all white students). Given the estimated 1.16 standard deviation difference between overall means, the proportion of high-achieving black students that would attend a like university should be about 16 percent. In fact, 19 percent did. So high-achieving black students did a little better than expected.
    The Education Trust HA Study subpage of the Education Disparities page of shows, for three types of racial/ethnic/SES comparisons, the extent to which differences in outcomes for several subjects comported with those one would expect based on the rates at which different groups achieved scores within the top quarter of all test takers. Most of the differences are fairly close to what there is reason to expect in the circumstances.

  2. rparks on Apr 4, 2014 at 6:46 pm04/4/2014 6:46 pm

    • 000

    Did the study ask about test prep? I’m wondering how many SAT, AP prep courses are a contributor to these results.


    • Floyd Thursby on Apr 5, 2014 at 7:23 am04/5/2014 7:23 am

      • 000

      Money is part of the issue. The truth is we should pay higher taxes and offer these courses free of charge to anyone who is willing to take them. However, the results will be disappointing. In New York City, they tried to get more blacks and Latinos into their 5 high schools which collectively represent Lowell in San Francisco or Boston Latin in Boston, a selective academic school that accepts the best students or at least attempts to with some imperfections, that accepts and rejects based on a child’s intelligence, work ethic, quality and character.

      For a year or two the classes were only available to Latinos and African Americans, but an Asian group sued and won, so as a result, NYC offered the course free of charge to anyone willing to go spend their Saturdays studying for the test in middle school. This is in a City with great transit, free transit available for poor children, and once the lawsuit came in, the percentage of kids actually attending these classes ended up being roughly the percentage getting into these schools, about 60% Asian, 30% white, and 10% other.

      So it wasn’t so much the $800 that kept people out, many seemingly poor people drank $800 worth of alcohol last year or spent $800 on pot or shoes or are overweight and spent 800 on excess food, or cigarettes. I don’t deny poverty is an issue, but if you’re willing to spend every Saturday studying for 8 hours to get into a top high school, you’re probably also willing to find a way to pay for it.

      When NYC made it free, it didn’t really help close the achievement gap.

      I agree & will gladly pay a 1% VAT or income tax to pay for it, as morally everyone should have access to these courses without extreme personal sacrifice. My point is simply that a bigger challenge will be to convince parents to bring their middle school kids there & have them spend 8 hrs. Saturday studying for a test. Even in San Francisco, many upper middle class white parents won’t make that a high enough priority. Sad.

      • Floyd Thursby on Apr 5, 2014 at 7:58 pm04/5/2014 7:58 pm

        • 000

        If you really want to make these tutoring programs effective you have to make it mandatory, maybe on Saturdays or maybe Summers. It could be a way to keep more underrepresented minorities on track towards a college degree and good grades.

  3. Floyd Thursby on Apr 3, 2014 at 8:01 pm04/3/2014 8:01 pm

    • 000

    Hmmmm, this report conveniently leaves out Asian Americans, who study over 2.5 times the hours whites do, are more than 4 times as likely to have parents prepare them with flashcards before Kindergarten, and are more than 4 x as likely as whites in California to qualify for the UC System and go, and who are the only group to do well even when poor.

    I agree this is a problem, but by only including black, Latino and white, they leave out a solid solution, determination and long hours studying.

    In high school, temptation comes up. If you forego serious relationships and sex, partying, drugs, alcohol, fighting, being cool, etc. you have a lot more of a chance. More Asians aren’t concerned with losing their virginity as fast as possible, as most whites are (American Pie), and are more focused on grades.

    This shows we’re losing people at a key age. I’ve seen it with white kids in my family, great students in middle school, drop out of junior college. Not reaching one’s potential is a horrible sin. We need counselors and funding to teach these kids that they are undermining a potentially wonderful life. It happens to many, but we should learn why it doesn’t happen to some.


    • navigio on Apr 3, 2014 at 9:39 pm04/3/2014 9:39 pm

      • 000

      You should read the report. It does talk about Asians as well.

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