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Increasing Racial Isolation and Test Score Gaps in Mathematics: A 30-Year Perspective


by Mark Berends & Roberto V. Penaloza — 2010

Background/Context: Although there has been progress in closing the test score gaps among student groups over past decades, that progress has stalled. Many researchers have speculated why the test score gaps closed between the early 1970s and the early 1990s, but only a few have been able to empirically study how changes in school factors and social background characteristics relate to that convergence. The main reason for this is the lack of data for multiple student cohorts—information necessary for the examination of such relationships.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: We analyzed nationally representative data from 1972, 1982, 1992, and 2004, examining the mathematics achievement of four high school senior cohorts, and several school and family background characteristics. We examined how changes in these measures (in terms of means and coefficients) relate to the black-white and Latino-white test score gaps and to changes in school minority composition.

Population/Participants/Subjects: For our analysis, we used the following nationally representative data sets, which are part of the Longitudinal Studies (LS) program at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES): National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972 (NLS-72); High School and Beyond senior cohort of 1982 (HSB-82); National Education Longitudinal Study senior cohort of 1992 (NELS-92); and Educational Longitudinal Study senior cohort of 2004 (ELS-04).

Research Design: Conducting secondary data analyses of these nationally representative data, we estimated a series of regressions for each senior cohort, entering the race dummy variables to estimate the unadjusted predicted mathematics test score difference between black and white students and between Latino and white students. Next, we estimated a series of multilevel regressions for each cohort to analyze how trends in school and social background measures are related to trends in the black-white and Latino-white mathematics test score gaps. Finally, we used the pooled coefficients in the decomposition of the difference between the predicted means of white and black test scores.

Findings/Results: Our estimates revealed that between 1972 and 2004, increases in school segregation corresponded to significant increases in the black-white and Latino-white test score gaps, outweighing the positive changes in family background measures for these minority groups.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Understanding how our society can address these countervailing forces—the improving socioeconomic conditions for black and Latino families on the one hand, and the increasing racial isolation of these students in schools on the other—necessitates innovative ideas and experimentation.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 112 Number 4, 2010, p. 978-1007
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15657, Date Accessed: 10/20/2017 3:18:03 AM

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About the Author
  • Mark Berends
    University of Notre Dame
    E-mail Author
    MARK BERENDS (Ph.D. Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison) is professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, director of the Center for Research on Educational Opportunity, director of the National Center on School Choice, funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (http://www.vanderbilt.edu/schoolchoice/), and vice president of the American Educational Research Association’s Division L, Policy and Politics in Education. His areas of expertise are the sociology of education, research methods, school effects on student achievement, and educational equity. Throughout his research career, Professor Berends has focused on how school organization and classroom instruction are related to student achievement, with special attention to disadvantaged students. Within this agenda, he has applied a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods to understanding the effect of school reforms on teachers and students. Recent publications: Goldring, E., & Berends, M. (2009). Leading with data: Pathways to improve your school. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press; Berends, M., Springer, M. G., Ballou, D., & Walberg, H. J. (Eds.). (2009). Handbook of research on school choice. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates/Taylor & Francis Group; Berends, M., Springer, M. G., & Walberg, H. J. (Eds.). (2008). Charter school outcomes. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates/Taylor & Francis Group; Berends, M., Lucas, S. R., & Penaloza, R.V. (2008). How changes in families and schools are related to Black-White test score trends. Sociology of Education; and Stein, M., Berends, M., Fuchs, D., McMaster, K., Saenz, L., Yen, L., et al. (2008). Scaling up an early reading program: Relationships among teacher support, fidelity of implementation, and student performance across different sites and years. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.
  • Roberto Penaloza
    Vanderbilt University
    ROBERTO PEÑALOZA (Ph.D., Economics, Vanderbilt University) is a economist and statistician at the National Center on School Choice at Vanderbilt University, Peabody College. His current research focuses on statistical methodology and data analysis techniques for exploring student achievement patterns in traditional public schools and charter schools. Dr. Penaloza has collaborated on multiple research projects in development economics, economic growth, international economics, applied statistics, and public institutions and health policy. After completing his undergraduate studies in Ecuador, Dr. Penaloza received his master of arts and doctor of philosophy degrees from the Department of Economics at Vanderbilt University. Immediately thereafter, he served as visiting assistant professor of economics in the Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics at Washington and Lee University. Recent publications: Berends, M., Lucas, S. R., & Penaloza, R.V. (in press). How changes in families and schools are related to Black-White test score trends. Sociology of Education; and Berends, M., & Penaloza, R. V. (2008). Changes in families, schools, and the test score gap. In K. A. Magnuson & J. Waldfogel (Eds.), Steady gains and stalled progress: Inequality and the Black-White test score gap (pp. 66–109). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
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