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Disentangling the racial test score gap: Probing the evidence in a large urban school district


  • Leanna Stiefel

    (Wagner Graduate School, New York University)

  • Amy Ellen Schwartz

    (Wagner Graduate School, New York University)

  • Ingrid Gould Ellen

    (Wagner Graduate School, New York University)


We examine the size and distribution of the gap in test scores across races within New York City public schools and the factors that explain these gaps. While gaps are partially explained by differences in student characteristics, such as poverty, differences in schools attended are also important. At the same time, substantial within-school gaps remain and are only partly explained by differences in academic preparation across students from different race groups. Controlling for differences in classrooms attended explains little of the remaining gap, suggesting little role for within-school inequities in resources. There is some evidence that school characteristics matter. Race gaps are negatively correlated with school size-implying small schools may be helpful. In addition, the trade-off between the size and experience of the teaching staff in urban schools may carry unintended consequences for within-school race gaps. © 2006 by the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.

Suggested Citation

  • Leanna Stiefel & Amy Ellen Schwartz & Ingrid Gould Ellen, 2007. "Disentangling the racial test score gap: Probing the evidence in a large urban school district," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 26(1), pages 7-30.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:jpamgt:v:26:y:2007:i:1:p:7-30 DOI: 10.1002/pam.20225

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Clotfelter, Charles T. & Ladd, Helen F. & Vigdor, Jacob, 2005. "Who teaches whom? Race and the distribution of novice teachers," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 24(4), pages 377-392, August.
    2. Marianne Bertrand & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2004. "Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(4), pages 991-1013, September.
    3. William G. Howell & Patrick J. Wolf & David E. Campbell & Paul E. Peterson, 2002. "School vouchers and academic performance: results from three randomized field trials," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 21(2), pages 191-217.
    4. Valentina A. Bali & R. Michael Alvarez, 2003. "Schools and Educational Outcomes: What Causes the "Race Gap" in Student Test Scores?," Social Science Quarterly, Southwestern Social Science Association, vol. 84(3), pages 485-507.
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    Cited by:

    1. Kevin P. Mongeon & Shawn W. Ulrick & Michael P. Giannetto, 2017. "Explaining university course grade gaps," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 52(1), pages 411-446, February.
    2. Dylan Conger & Mark C. Long & Patrice Iatarola, 2009. "Explaining race, poverty, and gender disparities in advanced course-taking," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 28(4), pages 555-576.

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