Post-Secondary Attainment

As highlighted earlier in this report, Schott urges a national standard for high school graduation diplomas that indicate students’ readiness for postsecondary schooling, rather than varied diplomas, including lesser quality diplomas that are often granted disproportionately to children of color, especially to Black males. New York may have recently ended its scandalous protocol of Local and Regents’ diplomas, but too many states continue similar disparities.

Measuring what matters requires a national focus on readying students for postsecondary achievement — because postsecondary education and training matter more now than ever before. In the competitive global economy, whether a student has meaningful access to postsecondary education and training is a strong determinant of his or her future chances for achievement and economic security.

Creating the healthy living and learning environments that promote postsecondary attainment is also a matter of our nation’s security. As the Lumina Foundation documents in its recent report A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education, closing the gaps in college attainment is essential to meeting our nation’s unprecedented and increasing need for talent. And it should be clear to all that we will not meet these national imperatives without closing the opportunity gaps that deny access to postsecondary achievement to children of color, who are increasingly becoming the majority in school districts across the country.

American Council on Education data illustrates the alarming gap that outlines the challenge before us.

Reading and Math Proficiency

The rates for high school graduation and postsecondary attainment present an important snapshot of the inequities in America’s education systems. However, it is important to emphasize that the opportunity gaps resulting in the graduation gaps for children of color start in their early years. Reviewing data from the National Association of Educational Progress (NAEP) for Grades 3 and 8 reading and mathematics outcomes underscores the gaps in access to high quality education resources that are consistent with students’ achieving proficiency in core subjects essential to their educational success.

However, a review of NAEP data makes it clear that in too many states narrow gaps are hardly indicative of progress, but rather the dramatically low scores for all their students — Black, Latino and White — indicate that all are being denied vital education resources. The worst states in this “lose-lose” category for Grade 8 Reading include Alabama, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, and Oklahoma.

Grade 8 NAEP data show that Black males trail both their White and Latino peers. White males outperform Black males in reading by 26 percentage points and 32 percentage points in mathematics.


Nationally, 38% of White males scored at or above proficient on the NAEP assessment in reading, as did 17% of Latino males and 12% of Black males.

Among 36 states reporting reading data for Black males, New Jersey ranked first in the percentage of Black males achieving proficiency (20%), though the disparity between Black and White males in the state was 28 percentage points. Mississippi had the lowest percentage of Black males performing at or above proficient in reading (5%). The gap between White and Black males within Mississippi was 21 percentage points. The District of Columbia had the largest gap between Black and White male proficiency rates in reading, 62 percentage points. Only 7% of Black males performed at or above proficient in reading as compared to 69% of White males.


Nationwide, 13% of Black males scored at or above proficient on the 2013 NAEP Grade 8 math assessment, as did 21% of Latino males and 45% of White males.

New Jersey ranked first in the percentages of Black males (29%) and White males (63%) performing at or above proficient in Grade 8 mathematics. Importantly, not only did New Jersey hold the highest percentages in Black and White male performance on the NAEP for Grade 8 math, it also had one of the largest gaps — 34 percentage points — between Black and White males.

Alaska, Mississippi, Wisconsin and Arkansas had the lowest percentages of Black males performing at or above proficient in Grade 8 math, all below 8%. This rate is seven percentage points below the median for Black males (13%), and 24 points below the performance of Black males in New Jersey, the top-ranked state. The gap between Black and White male proficiency rates in Grade 8 math in Arkansas was 27 percentage points. This means around four times as many White males performed at or above proficient in Grade 8 math than their Black male peers. Furthermore, roughly 93% of Black males scored at the basic or below basic level in Grade 8 mathematics in Arkansas, compared to roughly 65% of White males.

Mississippi had the largest gap between Black and White proficiency rates in Grade 8 math with a difference of 42 percentage points. This means that roughly seven times more White males performed at or above proficient in Grade 8 math than their Black male peers. The smallest difference between White male and Black male proficiency rates was again in Connecticut with an eight-percentage point gap. In Connecticut, the proficiency rate for Black males was above the national average; the relatively small disparity between the scores of Black and White males was driven by low performance among White males in the state.

Advanced Placement Oppotunities

Access to and participation in rigorous and high-level course work in secondary school is a critical component of improving the educational outcomes of Black and Latino students and providing a key opportunity for postsecondary success. Enrollment in Advanced Placement courses and passing Advanced Placement exams are related to improved SAT scores, college admission and receiving college scholarships, and college completion 1, 2.

Nevertheless, such opportunities are not equally distributed. Black and Latino students are less likely to attend schools that offer Advanced Placement courses and other high-level course offerings 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Despite College Board’s equity policy, Black and Latino students are still significantly underrepresented in Advanced Placement courses 8, 9. Schools serving students from low-income and minority families have fewer opportunities to learn advanced content and participate in Advanced Placement courses, thus contributing to disparities in educational outcomes both in high school and beyond 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.

In Maryland, 15% of Black males enrolled in at least one AP course — the highest rate nationwide, though still less than the national average test-taking rate for White males. In Louisiana and South Carolina, Black males took AP exams at a rate of 3%, the lowest rate nationwide.

Black males in Montgomery County (MD) enrolled in AP courses at the highest rate nationwide (6%). This was similar to the rate for Latino males, but ten percentage points lower than White male participation, 16%. Black males in Caddo Parish (LA), Jefferson Parish (LA) and Chatham County (GA) enrolled in AP courses at rates of less than one-half of one percent. In Caddo Parish, 4% of White males enrolled in AP courses, a rate nine times higher than that of Black males.

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