The Review of Black Political Economy

, Volume 43, Issue 2, pp 209–232 | Cite as

Black-White Disparities in Test Scores: Distributional Characteristics

  • Ronald Fernandes
  • Inhyuck Steve HaEmail author
  • Susan Williams McElroy
  • Samuel L. MyersJr.


This paper investigates the distributional characteristics of racial differences in mathematics achievement, with particular attention to the potential influence of unexplained, and possibly unwarranted, racial differentials in rates of school suspension. It is well known that black students consistently score lower than whites on achievement tests, on average, even after controlling for family and schooling factors. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 cohort, we decompose the racial gap in mathematics test scores from the Peabody Individual Achievement Test-Revised (PIAT-R) into a component due to racial differences in underlying characteristics and another component that is unexplained by differences in measured characteristics. We account for the possible endogeneity of suspensions in our analysis and show that the portion of the racial gap that is unexplained differs between the top and the bottom of the test score distribution. Our results suggest that researchers should pay more attention to the problem of concentration of black students among those at the bottom of the distribution and their scarcity among those at the top of the test score distribution to better understand the factors that account for the observed disparities.


Racial disparity Distributional characteristics Suspensions Mathematics achievement Test scores Achievement tests Peabody Individual Achievement Test-Revised (PIAT-R) National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) 
JEL Classsification I12 I30 J15 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ronald Fernandes
    • 1
  • Inhyuck Steve Ha
    • 2
    Email author
  • Susan Williams McElroy
    • 3
  • Samuel L. MyersJr.
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Public ServiceDePaul UniversityChicagoUSA
  2. 2.College of BusinessWestern Carolina UniversityCullowheeUSA
  3. 3.School of Economic, Political and Policy SciencesThe University of Texas at DallasRichardsonUSA
  4. 4.Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public AffairsUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

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