Background: In recent years, Asian Americans have been consistently described as a model minority. The high levels of educational achievement and educational attainment are the main determinants for identifying Asian Americans as a model minority. Nonetheless, only a few studies have examined empirically the accomplishments of Asian Americans, and even fewer studies have compared their achievement with other important societal groups such as Whites. In addition, differences in academic achievement between Asian Americans and Whites across the entire achievement distribution, or differences in the variability of the achievement distribution, have not been documented. However, this is an important task because it provides information about the achievement gap for lower, average, and higher achieving students.
Purpose: The present study examines differences in academic achievement between Asian American and White students in average scores (e.g., middle of the achievement distribution), in extreme scores (e.g., the upper and the lower tails of the achievement distribution), and in the variability of the achievement distribution. The main objective of this study is to determine the achievement gap between Asian American and White students in the lower and upper tails of the achievement distribution to shed some light on whether the achievement gap between the two groups varies by achievement level.
Participants: I use data from four national probability samples of high school seniors to examine Asian American–White differences in achievement from 1972 to 1992. Specifically, I used data from the base year of the NLS (NLS:72), the base year of the High School and Beyond (HSB) survey of 1980, the first follow-up of the HSB survey in 1982 (that is HSB:80, HSB:82), and the second follow-up of NELS (NELS:92).
Research Design: The study is correlational and uses quantile regression to analyze observational data from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.
Findings: The findings indicate that the Asian American–White gap is more pronounced in mathematics than in reading. In 1992, the gap in the middle and the upper tail of the mathematics distribution is greater than one third of a SD, which is not a trivial gap in education. In reading, the gap is overall smaller, and nearly one third of a SD in 1992 in the upper tail (favoring Asian students).
Conclusions: It appears that Asian American students are indeed a model minority group that performs not only at similar levels but also at higher levels than the majority group, especially among high achievers in mathematics (and reading in the 1990s).