May 12, 2008 10:13 ET

Report: Look Through Many Windows to Understand the Achievement Gap

More Than Standard Measures Needed to Create Informed Policies

PRINCETON, NJ--(Marketwire - May 12, 2008) - To successfully address achievement gaps in our nation's schools, policymakers must examine a broader range of measures in order to develop a more complete understanding of those gaps, according to a new report from Educational Testing Service.

"Windows on Achievement and Inequality" examines data that can help policymakers create and implement informed policies and practices to close achievement gaps. Factors include early childhood vocabulary and cognitive development, socioeconomic and ethnic background, expanding our understanding of student achievement, and making sense of international assessments to better understand how the United States compares with other developed nations. The report was written by Paul E. Barton and Richard J. Coley of ETS's Policy Information Center.

"While reams of achievement data may be collected and stored in computer databases, a fairly small number of useful measures trickle from the data files and make their way into the information stream available to policymakers," says Coley, Director of the ETS Policy Information Center.

"We, as a country, need to expand what it is currently a very limited view of student performance," adds Barton, Senior Associate, ETS's Policy Information Center. "We are trying to provide a panoramic view of the condition of achievement and inequality from the starting line at birth through the finish line in high school."

The report begins by examining parent-child interactions during the earliest years of life, and continues into kindergarten, and through elementary school and high school, as well as looking at how our achievement compares to that of other countries.

Findings in the report show that:

--  Children's language and literacy development are hugely affected by
    the quantity and quality of parent-child verbal interactions.
--  The achievement gap is already present at the beginning of
    kindergarten. Thirty four percent of White kindergartners are able to
    understand letter-sound relationships compared with 20 percent of Black and
    Hispanic kindergartners.
--  Focusing on the percentage of students who are labeled as "proficient"
    on NAEP as is typical, misses a lot of important information. While none of
    the states improved on this measure in 8th grade reading from 2002 to 2007,
    five states made gains in the score of students in the top quartile of
    scores and five made gains the bottom quartile.
--  The extent of inequality in student achievement in the United States
    can be seen in the overlap in the scores of some 9- and 17-year-olds.
--  Looking at NAEP scores going back to the 1970s and 1980s reveals
    significant reductions in achievement gaps that have not been seen since,
    raising the question of how we were able to accomplish this back then, and
    what we might learn from looking back at how it happened.

"Inequality in educational achievement can also be seen in international comparison studies," explains Coley. "These studies garner a lot of attention particularly when the United States doesn't fare well, but different international assessments given at different times in different subjects in different grades and among different countries make it difficult to have an accurate view of where the United States truly stands. Our conclusions are drawn from a composite study of all of these measurements."

International comparisons from the report include:

--  In all subjects combined, 24 percent of countries scored above the
    United States, 37 percent had equivalent scores, and 35 percent were below.
--  The United States does best in reading and civics and worst in math
    and science.

Barton concludes, "The expanded views presented in this report still provide only a glimpse of the total picture, but a helpful one as we move toward a more complete understanding of what is necessary to increase educational achievement in the United States."

Download the full report, "Windows on Achievement and Inequality," for free at Purchase copies for $15 (prepaid) by writing to the Policy Information Center, ETS, MS 19-R, Rosedale Road, Princeton, NJ 08541-0001; by calling (609) 734-5949; or by sending an e-mail to

About ETS

ETS is a nonprofit institution with the mission to advance quality and equity in education by providing fair and valid assessments, research, and related service for all people worldwide. In serving individuals, educational institutions, and government agencies around the world, ETS customizes solutions to meet the need for teacher professional development products and services, classroom and end-of-course assessments, and research-based teaching and learning tools. Founded in 1947, ETS today develops, administers, and scores more than 50 million tests annually, in more than 180 countries, at over 9,000 locations worldwide. Additional information is available at

Contact Information