The Early Achievement and Development Gap. How big are the early gaps in achievement and development by race, ethnicity, or home language?


Today, the largest achievement and developmental gaps are found to be between high-income and low-income children.[11] However, there is also evidence of gaps by race, ethnicity, and home language.┬а There is a large body of research on Black-White, Hispanic-White, and Immigrant-Native achievement gaps. At 9 months, gaps in cognitive skills exist between White children and minority children, with the largest gap for American Indian/Alaskan Native children (.3 of a SD).[12] By 24 months, these gaps in cognitive skills between minority children and their White peers have widened, and are larger for American Indian/Alaskan Native children (.9 of a SD) than for Black children (.6 of a SD).[13] Minority children are also less likely to be rated by their parents as being in excellent or very good health at both 9 and 24 months, and show fewer positive behaviors at 24 months, compared to their White peers.[14]

At school entry, Black children tend to be behind White children in reading skills (.4 of a SD) and even further behind in math skills (.6 to .8 of a SD). These gaps widen further by fifth grade (1 SD for math; .8 of a SD for reading).[15] At school entry, Hispanic children also trail White children in reading (.5 of a SD) and are further behind in math (almost .8 of a SD).[16] For children from Spanish-speaking families, there is indication that, by 24 months, these children are behind their native English-speaking peers in cognitive skills (.7 of a SD).[17] Additionally, while children of immigrants who are not proficient in English trail behind native English-speaking peers on assessments that require the use of English, there is evidence that the gaps that are present at school entry narrow as these children improve in their English proficiency.[18] Further, children from immigrant families do not appear to be behind their native peers in other nonverbal cognitive domains, and do not display greater behavior problems.[19]

Importantly, while the achievement and development gaps by race/ethnicity remain large, they have narrowed over the last few decades. It is important to note that child background characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, and home language, are often confounded with differences in SES. For example, there is evidence that the Black-White gap in reading skills at school entry is reduced by half (to .2 of a SD) or more after accounting for SES.[20]

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