Skip over navigation

Journal Issue: School Readiness: Closing Racial and Ethnic Gaps Volume 15 Number 1 Spring 2005

Assessment Issues in the Testing of Children at School Entry
Donald A. Rock A. Jackson Stenner


The authors introduce readers to the research documenting racial and ethnic gaps in school readiness. They describe the key tests, including the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT), the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS), and several intelligence tests, and describe how they have been administered to several important national samples of children.

Next, the authors review the different estimates of the gaps and discuss how to interpret these differences. In interpreting test results, researchers use the statistical term “standard deviation” to compare scores across the tests. On average, the tests find a gap of about 1 standard deviation. The ECLS-K estimate is the lowest, about half a standard deviation. The PPVT estimate is the highest, sometimes more than 1 standard deviation. When researchers adjust those gaps statistically to take into account different outside factors that might affect children's test scores, such as family income or home environment, the gap narrows but does not disappear.

Why such different estimates of the gap? The authors consider explanations such as differences in the samples, racial or ethnic bias in the tests, and whether the tests reflect different aspects of school “readiness,” and conclude that none is likely to explain the varying estimates. Another possible explanation is the Spearman Hypothesis—that all tests are imperfect measures of a general ability construct, g; the more highly a given test correlates with g, the larger the gap will be. But the Spearman Hypothesis, too, leaves questions to be investigated.

A gap of 1 standard deviation may not seem large, but the authors show clearly how it results in striking disparities in the performance of black and white students and why it should be of serious concern to policymakers.