Nisbett Wrong, Again–No Black Gains in Reading and Mathematics Over Five Decades

J. Philippe Rushton, VDARE, July 23, 2010


Now I want to focus these allegedly improving Black scores in more detail. This article too is based on an academic journal essay by Arthur Jensen and myself: in the March 2010 issue of Intelligence, The rise and fall of the Flynn Effect as a reason to expect a narrowing of the Black-White IQ gap.


However, our new analysis finds that from 1954 to 2008 Black 17-year-olds consistently scored at the level of White 14-year-olds on tests of mathematics and reading–i.e. in more than fifty years, there had been no significant change at all.

As I will explain below, a 3+ year gap between Blacks and Whites at age 17 is equal to an IQ for Black 17-year-olds of about 85, the same as that found using standardized IQ tests.

Jensen and I began our analysis with the 1975 to 2008 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) long term assessment tests. These are often referred to as “The Nation’s Report Card” because they are based on nationally representative samples of over 26,000 students. They comprise the gold standard for educational achievement tests, provide the empirical basis for No Child Left Behind. They assess Mathematics and Reading skills every three or four years for White, Black, and Hispanic 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds.


NAEP press releases regularly trumpet improvement i.e. closing the “Achievement Gap” in this or that subset of the Black population using this or that subtest. Our more pessimistic conclusions arise because we aggregated the data and looked at the entire period.

This 3+ year education gap between Blacks and Whites was also noted in the Coleman Report back in 1966. This report was authorized by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and carried out under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. {snip}

The Coleman Report even found that Black scores averaged below those of American Indians, despite that group scoring lower on most socioeconomic indicators.

Coleman also found–perhaps surprisingly in 1966–that the educational resources devoted to Blacks and Whites were nearly equal, even in the South. But none of the expected financial or educational “inputs” could be correlated with any of the performance “outputs”.

Instead, the main determinant of a child’s score was his own parents’ socioeconomic status–not the amount of money spent on schools. Going to a good or a bad school, by itself, apparently had little influence on the students’ performance on standardized tests.

The Coleman Report did find, however, that Black students who attended middle-class majority White schools achieved higher than other Black students. Coleman surmised this was due to peer attitudes in such schools. Accordingly, he recommended that Black students be assigned to schools where there was a majority of middle class attitude. This earned Coleman the moniker “the sociologist who inspired busing”.

Across much of the U.S., court-ordered busing forcibly transferred tens of thousands of White and Black students to each other’s schools. But by 1975, Coleman wrote that school busing had simply led to “white flight” as parents moved their children to private schools and ever more distant suburbs outside of the court’s jurisdiction. {snip}

Jensen and I were able to go even further back in time. We examined studies from 1954 to 1965 in the State of Georgia, with data on reading and mathematics from 1,500 White and 800 Black students given the California Achievement Test; and in Virginia, with data on reading from 2,000 Black and White students.

Those studies too showed that by grade 10 (age 16), the average Black–White gap was about three years.


The lowest scores in our analysis came from the gold standard NAEP tests (70, 71, and 77). In our review of Nisbett’s book mentioned earlier, Jensen and I noted the possibility that the mean African American IQ might actually be only 78 rather than 85–in part because, even today, test developers and educational researchers seldom get to examine the very lowest scoring segments of the Black population in inner cities.

Taken together, our results indicate no significant Black gain in educational achievement for over 50 years. When evidence in favor of Black gains is presented, it typically rests on insufficient sampling and highly selective reporting.


Our conclusion: predictions about the Black–White IQ gap narrowing are based on faith rather than evidence, wishful thinking rather than critical analysis.


[“The rise and fall of the Flynn Effect as a reason to expect a narrowing of the Black-White IQ gap,” by Arthur Jensen and J. Phillippe Rushton (Intelligence, March 2010) can be downloaded as a PDF file here.]


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