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black reading scores


Every two to four years the American Department of Education tests public school children across the country. They give reading and math tests to fourth graders (9-year-olds) and eighth graders, (13-year-olds).

Just to keep it simple, I will look just at the reading scores of 13-year-olds in 2007. The general pattern for math and 9-year-olds is much the same, though the particulars are different.

Note that in what follows only averages are reported. Not everyone scores at or near the average – many score way above and many score way below.

The good news is that reading scores have gone up since 1992 for both blacks and whites. The bad news is that the racial gap has not narrowed much at all: blacks still score way lower than whites:

  • 270 whites in 2007
  • 265 whites in 1992
  • 244 blacks in 2007
  • 236 blacks in 1992

The scores are on a 500-point scale. I always list scores from highest to lowest.

Poor children generally read worse than middle-class ones, but that alone cannot account for the gap: middle-class blacks read as badly as poor whites:

  • 274 middle-class whites
  • 257 poor whites
  • 254 middle-class blacks
  • 238 poor blacks

“Middle-class” in this case means your parents make more than 1.85 times the poverty level. “Poor” means they make less than 1.30 times the poverty level – poor enough to get a free lunch at school.

Here are the states with the worst average reading scores for whites:

  • 265 Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky
  • 262 Hawaii
  • 263 Nevada
  • 261 Alabama
  • 256 West Virginia

Now compare that to the states with the BEST average reading scores for blacks:

  • 259 Miltary (has its own schools)
  • 255 Hawaii
  • 253 Massachusetts
  • 252 Colorado
  • 252 Virginia

So the white 13-year-olds of West Virginia, as bad as they read on average, are still better off – on average – than blacks, even in the states that are best for them. And even the black army brats barely outscore them.

(Note that some states do not have enough blacks and whites to do a good comparison: nine states are too white – Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota – and DC is too black.)

Notice that Hawaii is in both lists: it is the only state without a racial gap. True, there is a 7 point difference, but that is within the statistical margin of error for the state.

Some states have a much smaller gap than the country as a whole:

  • Sometimes it is for a good reason: blacks do well compared to blacks as a whole – Virginia, Delaware, Alaska and the military.
  • Sometimes it is for a bad reason: whites do poorly – Kentucky, Nevada and New Mexico.

And there is one state where the gap is way bigger than in the rest of the country and, no, that state is not in the south: Wisconsin. The whites there are average, but the blacks are the worst 13-year-old readers in the whole country.

Here are the worst states for blacks:

  • 237 California
  • 236 Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan
  • 231 Wisconsin

So much for the idea that the South has some kind of lock on bad education for blacks.

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