Journal article

When does inequality grow? A seasonal analysis of racial/ethnic disparities in learning from kindergarten through eighth grade

December 2020

Published in:

Educational Researcher. doi:10.3102/0013189X20977854

By: Megan Kuhfeld, Dennis Condron, Doug Downey


What role does schooling play in the development of racial/ethnic inequalities in academic skills? Seasonal learning studies, which allow researchers to compare the growth of achievement gaps when school is in versus out of session, provide important evidence regarding whether schools reduce, reproduce, or exacerbate educational inequalities. Most studies that have compared the growth of achievement gaps when school is in versus out of session have been restricted to the early grades. In this study, we examine seasonal patterns of racial/ethnic achievement gaps using test scores from over 2.5 million kindergarten to eighth-grade students. Following three different cohorts of students from 2015 to 2018, we find that Black-White achievement gaps widen during school periods and shrink during summers, whereas Asian students generally pull ahead of White students at a faster rate during summers. At the same time, we find that disparities observed among older students are largely in place among kindergartners. Our results imply that although schooling does have disparate impacts on the learning trajectories of students, schools play less of a role in widening racial/ethnic achievement gaps than children’s prekindergarten environments.

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