Nisbett Wrong, Again—No Black Gains In Reading and Mathematics Over Five Decades

In my last VDARE article, I critically examined Richard Nisbett`s book, Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count. Nisbett, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan, [email him],received the most favorable reviews, not only in the media, but academia as well, for arguing that there has been a 35% Black gain relative to Whites in average IQ test scores and tests of educational achievement. Moreover, Nisbett asserted (incorrectly, it turned out) that cultural factors alone could explain all the Black-White gaps—which he also claimed could be eliminated altogether through educational and social interventions.

All of which was just what the huge sector of the Education Industry devoted to closing the racial Achievement Gap wanted to hear. But it was wrong.

(My article was based on a longer academic review [PDF] that Arthur Jensen and I contributed to The Open Psychology Review).

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.

When Jensen and I reviewed Nisbett`s book, we noted that his claims of Black IQ gains relative to whites were far too high. But, in common with other race realist scientists, we tended to assume there must have been some improvement.

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.

Figure 1 (below) shows the combined mathematics and reading scores for White, Hispanic, and Black 17-year-olds, along with those for White 13-year-olds. We combined the mathematics and reading scores into composites and focused mainly on 17- year- olds. As can be seen, Black 17-year-olds have not closed the gap on Hispanic 17-year-olds (for many of whom English is a second language), and barely closed it on White 13-year-olds. Black 17-year-olds lag White 17-year olds by over three years.

Combined NAEP Mathematics and Reading Scores for White, Hispanic, and Black 17-Year-Olds and White 13-Year-Olds from 1975 to 2008.

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. It was a nationally representative survey of nearly 600,000 schoolchildren and 60,000 teachers from 4,000 schools throughout the US, including those from the metropolitan northeast, California, and the Pacific Northwest. Black achievement scores averaged 1.6 years behind those of Whites in grade 6 (at age 12); 2.4 years in grade 9 (age 15); and 3.3 years in grade 12 (age 18).

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. [This was published as Racial Segregation in the Schools: New Research With New Policy Implications, Phi Delta Kappan, October 1975, not online. See Education: Forced Busing and White Flight, Time Magazine, September 25, 1976]

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 Georgia and Virginia studies were dismissed at the time as due to “convenience samples”—that is, a sample that was readily to hand rather than truly representative—and the result of the school segregation that was legally mandated at the time in the South. (Rather than as a reason in support of segregation, as the policy`s defenders argued).

One older way of calculating an IQ score is to use the equation, IQ = MA/CA x 100, where MA = Mental Age, CA = Chronological Age, and with the White mean set at 100. Jensen and I used this formula to calculate that the mean IQ for Black 14-year-olds in the 1954 Georgia study was 86 (12/14 x 100) and in 1965, 81 (11.3/14 x 100).

Similarly, for the Coleman Report, we calculated the mean IQ for Black 15-year-olds was 84 (12.6/15 x 100), and for Black 18-year-olds, 82 (14.7/18 x 100).

For the 1975 NAEP tests, we calculated the mean IQ for Black 13-year-olds was 70 (9/13 x 100) and for Black 17-year-olds, 71 (12/17 x 100). And for the 2008 NAEP tests the mean IQ for Black 13-year-olds was 85 (11/13 x 100) and for Black 17-year-olds, 77 (13/17 x 100).

These Black IQ results did range from 70 to 86. But the overall mean IQ was 80 (median 82), quite in line with an IQ typically found to be 84 or 85 on standardized IQ tests such as the Stanford-Binet and Wechsler.

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.

By contrast, the results in Figure 1 are based on a highly reliable composite based on combining the Reading and Mathematics scores of the NAEP.

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

There is no more reason to expect Black–White differences in IQ to narrow as a result of, say, the secular rise in IQ over time, than to expect male–female differences in height to narrow as a result of secular changes in height due to nutrition. The (mostly heritable) cause of the former is not the (mostly environmental) cause of the latter.

J. Philippe Rushton (E-mail him) is a professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada and the author of Race, Evolution, and Behavior: A Life History Perspective.