Skip to navigation menu

Skip to main content

Assessing Achievement Gaps Comprehensively

<- Previous Page

Published: 4/1/2022

The problem with a “what-gets-measured-gets-done” approach is that “what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done,” says Richard Rothstein, Research Associate at the Economic Policy Institute and Senior Researcher at the Campaign for Educational Equity.  “Reassessing the Achievement Gap: Fully Measuring What Students Should be Taught in School,” was the second equity forum convened by the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University on February 21, 2008.  Rothstein presented a report co-authored by Rebecca Jacobsen, an assistant professor at , and Tamara Wilder, a doctoral student at Teachers College.

Rothstein began with the premise that state testing under the No Child Left Behind (“NCLB”) law, as well as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (“NAEP”) do not currently provide adequate measures of achievement because they focus primarily on basic skills and they do not include information about high school drop-outs or young adult achievement levels.  According to the authors, assessments lacking this data do not indicate whether or not states are making progress toward achieving educational equity because data on the effect of schooling will only be meaningful several years after school completion. They conclude that young adult achievement is the only measure of sustained excellence and equity.

Rothstein demonstrated how the accountability system of the NCLB Act has caused a narrowing of the curriculum that disproportionately affects low-income and minority children. NCLB’s skewed focus on math and reading instruction has come at the expense of other subjects, like social studies, science, music, art and physical education.  Moreover, Rothstein notes that districts with the lowest performance tend to sacrifice more of their time for other subjects in order to meet NCLB achievement goals and requirements.

The authors recommend expanding and re-defining NAEP to measure educational excellence as well as equity, by taking into consideration differences in student backgrounds and including a broader understanding of achievement based on assessments in eight goal areas:

-         Basic academic skills in core subjects

-         Critical thinking and problem solving

-         Social skills and work ethic

-         Citizenship and community responsibility

-         Physical health

-         Emotional health

-         Appreciation of the arts and literature

-         Preparation for skilled work

Moreover, they argue that NAEP should re-instate its original intention to include young adults and high school dropouts in its analyses - an effort that was abandoned for lack of funding decades ago. The authors note that NAEP does not need to start from scratch in this effort because much work in developing survey items and sample design has already been done.  They estimate that the total cost of such a survey will be $45 million dollars for the first three years and $39 million every three years thereafter.

Further Developments

This report is part of a larger project to outline a Comprehensive Report Card on Educational Equity, in which Rothstein and his colleagues are focusing on the differences in black/white achievement in all of the eight educational goal areas. In a preliminary analysis, the report, based on available national data, finds that white students outperform black students in each of the eight goal areas, and it calculates an 18 percentile point gap in overall inputs that contribute to the opportunity of a meaningful education. Correspondingly, Francisco Rivera-Batiz, Professor of Economics and Education at Teachers College and discussant at the event, presented a report that outlines the differences between Hispanic students and other white students on a similar broad range of educational outcomes.  


For more on the event, publications, powerpoint presentations, and the audio podcast of the event, please go to: