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NAEP 1999 Trends in Academic Progress:

Three Decades of Student Performance

August 2000

Authors: Jay R. Campbell, Catherine M. Hombo, and John Mazzeo

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Black and white photograph of booksAmid the social, political, and technological changes of the last 30 years, interest in the education of America’s children has remained high. During the 1970s and 1980s, concern for educational achievement prompted a "back to basics" movement followed by a call for learning expectations beyond minimum competency. In the 1990s, the desire that all students attain high levels of academic achievement was expressed through the establishment of challenging national education goals and state academic standards.

Against this backdrop, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has served as the nation’s only ongoing monitor of student achievement across time. As a project of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the U.S. Department of Education, NAEP has regularly administered assessments in a variety of subject areas to nationally representative samples of students since 1969. Among the many components of the NAEP program, the long-term trend assessments have provided a gauge of student achievement over time by administering the same assessments periodically across NAEP’s 30-year history.

In 1999, the long-term trend assessments in reading, mathematics, and science were administered for the final time in the twentieth century. This report presents the results of those assessments, and examines the trends in 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds’ achievement in these three subjects since the first administration of each assessment. A long-term trend writing assessment was also administered in 1999; however, the results of that assessment are undergoing evaluation.

This executive summary provides an overview of major findings from 10 administrations of the long-term trend reading assessment since 1971, 9 administrations of the long-term trend mathematics assessment since 1973, and 10 administrations of the long-term trend science assessment (since 1970 for 9- and 13-year-olds, and since 1969 for 17-year-olds). It should be noted that these long-term trend assessments are different from more recently developed assessments in the same subjects that make up NAEP’s "main" assessment program. Because the instruments and methodologies of the two assessment programs are different, comparisons between the long-term trend results presented in this report and the main assessment results presented in other NAEP reports are not possible.


National Trends in Reading, Mathematics, and Science Achievement

Generally, the trends in mathematics and science are characterized by declines in the 1970s, followed by increases during the 1980s and early 1990s, and mostly stable performance since then. Some gains are also evident in reading, but they are modest. Overall improvement across the assessment years is most evident in mathematics. National trends in average reading, mathematics, and science scores are depicted in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Trends in Average Scale Scores for the Nation in Reading, Mathematics, and Science

Reading Scores

  • 17-year-olds. Average scores from 1984 to 1992 were higher than in 1971. The slight increase between 1971 and 1999, however, was not statistically significant.

  • 13-year-olds. Average scores increased during the 1970s. Since 1980 scores have fluctuated; however, the average score in 1999 was higher than that in 1971.

  • 9-year-olds. Average scores increased during the 1970s. Since 1980 there has been no further improvement in scores; however, the average score in 1999 was higher than that in 1971.

Mathematics Scores

  • 17-year-olds. After declining between 1973 and 1982, average scores increased during the 1980s, and more modestly in the 1990s. The average score in 1999 was higher than that in 1973.

  • 13-year-olds. An increase in scores between 1978 and 1982, followed by additional increases in the 1990s, resulted in an average score in 1999 that was higher than that in 1973.

  • 9-year-olds. After a period of stable performance in the 1970s, average scores increased in the 1980s. Additional modest gains were evident in the 1990s, and the 1999 average score was higher than that in 1973.

Science Scores

  • 17-year-olds. After declining between 1969 and 1982, average scores increased until 1992. Although the average score in 1999 was higher than those from 1977 through 1990, it remained lower than the average score in 1969.

  • 13-year-olds. After declining between 1970 and 1977, average scores increased until 1992. A slight decline since 1992, however, resulted in an average score in 1999 that was similar to that in 1970.

  • 9-year-olds. After declining between 1970 and 1973, average scores remained relatively stable until 1982. Increases between 1982 and 1990, followed by relatively stable performance in the 1990s, resulted in an average score in 1999 that was higher than that in 1970.

Trends in Average Scores by Quartiles

Examining student performance within different ranges of the score distribution provides some indication of whether or not overall trends in average scores are reflected in trends for lower, middle-, or higher performing students. The summary of results presented here examines trends in the scores attained by students in the lower quartile (lower 25 percent), middle two quartiles (middle 50 percent), and upper quartile (upper 25 percent) of the score distribution. Quartile results are available back to 1971 for reading, 1978 for mathematics, and 1977 for science.

  • Reading Quartiles. Among 9-year-olds, the average reading scores of students in each quartile range in 1999 were higher than in 1971. Among 13-year-olds, overall gains are evident mostly for students in the upper quartile and, to a lesser extent, in the middle two quartiles. Among 17-year-olds, overall improvement is evident only among students in the lower quartile.

  • Mathematics Quartiles. The overall gains that were seen for each age group in the national average mathematics scores are also evident in each quartile range. For 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds, the 1999 average score in each quartile range was higher than in 1978.

  • Science Quartiles. Among 9- and 13-year-olds, overall gains in science since 1977 are evident in each quartile range. Among 17-year-olds, scores increased between 1977 and 1999 in the upper and middle two quartiles, but not in the lower quartile.
Black and white photograph of a smiling girl with school lockers behind her

Trends in Average Scores for Racial/Ethnic Subgroups

The racial/ethnic subgroups measured in this assessment were white, black, and Hispanic students. Other racial/ethnic subgroups are not reported, as the samples collected were of insufficient size to analyze and report separately. Results for Hispanic students are not available for the first assessment year in reading (1971) and for the first two assessment years in science (1969/1970 and 1973).

Reading Scores by Race/Ethnicity

  • Among white students, gains in average reading scores are mostly evident across the assessment years for 9- and 13-year-olds. Among black and Hispanic students, overall gains are evident at each age.

  • In 1999, white students had higher average reading scores than their black and Hispanic peers. The gap between white and black students in reading narrowed between 1971 and 1999 in each age group. Since 1988 it has widened somewhat at ages 13 and 17. The gap between white and Hispanic students narrowed between 1975 and 1999 at age 17 only.

Mathematics Scores by Race/Ethnicity

  • Students in each racial/ethnic group and at all three ages showed gains in mathematics scores across the assessment years.

  • In 1999, white students had higher average mathematics scores than their black and Hispanic peers. The gap between white and black students in mathematics narrowed between 1973 and 1999 in each age group. Some widening is evident since 1986 at age 13, and since 1990 at age 17. The gap between white and Hispanic 13- and 17-year-olds narrowed between 1973 and 1999, but has widened since 1982 among 9-year-olds.

Science Scores by Race/Ethnicity

  • Among white and black students, overall gains in science are evident for 9- and 13-year-olds. Hispanic students at each age show overall gains across the assessment years.

  • In 1999, white students had higher average science scores than their black and Hispanic peers. The gap between white and black students in science generally narrowed since 1970 for 9- and 13-year-olds, but not for 17-year-olds. The gap between white and Hispanic students at any age in 1999 was not significantly different from 1977. It has widened somewhat among 13-year-olds since 1992.

Trends in Average Scores for Males and Females

The long-term trend results for male and female students are summarized below.

Reading Scores by Gender

  • Among male students, overall gains in reading are evident across the assessment years for 9- and 13-year-olds. Among female students, only 13-year-olds show a significant increase between the first and last assessment year.

  • In 1999, female students had higher average reading scores than male students in each age group. Among 9-year-olds, the gap between males and females narrowed between 1971 and 1999.

Mathematics Scores by Gender

  • Among male students, 9- and 13-year-olds show overall gains in mathematics between 1973 and 1999. Among female students, overall gains across the years are evident at each age.

  • In 1999, the apparent difference between male and female students’ average mathematics scores was not significant at any age. Among 17-year-olds, the score gap that had favored male students in the 1970s ultimately disappeared, and by 1999 the difference was no longer statistically significant.

Science Scores by Gender

  • Among male and female students, score declines in the 1970s and early 1980s have reversed, and scores generally increased during the 1980s and early 1990s; however, the 1999 average score of 17-year-olds in both groups remained lower than in 1969. For female 9-year-olds, score gains resulted in a 1999 average score that was higher than that in 1970.

  • In 1999, males outperformed females in science at ages 13 and 17, but the average score for male students was not significantly higher than that of female students at age 9. Among 17-year-olds, the score gap between males and females has narrowed since 1969.

Trends in Average Scores by Parental Education Level

Students in the long-term trend assessments are asked to identify the highest level of education attained by each of their parents. The highest education level of either parent, as reported by students, is used in these analyses. In each subject area and each age group, students who reported higher parental education levels tended to have higher average scores. Results by parental education level are available back to 1971 in reading, 1978 in mathematics, and 1977 in science. Trends in average scores for students who indicated different levels of parental education are summarized on the following page. It should be noted that 9-year-olds’ reports of their parents’ education levels may not be as reliable as those of older students. As such, results for 9-year-olds are not included in this executive summary.

Reading Scores by Parental Education

  • Among students with at least one parent who pursued education after high school, average reading scores in 1999 were lower than in 1971 for 17-year-olds.

  • Among students whose parents’ highest level of education was high school graduation, overall declines in performance are evident at ages 13 and 17.

  • Among students whose parents did not graduate from high school, scores in 1999 were similar to those in 1971 at age 13, and the apparent increase at age 17 was not statistically significant.

Mathematics Scores by Parental Education

  • Among students at the highest level of parental education -- college graduation -- scores in 1999 were similar to those in 1978 at ages 13 and 17.

  • Among students whose parents’ highest education level was some education after high school, 13-year-olds show overall gains across the assessment years.

  • Among students whose parents did not go beyond high school graduation, score increases across the years are evident for 17-year-olds.

  • Among students whose parents did not complete high school, overall gains in mathematics are evident at ages 13 and 17.

Science Scores by Parental Education

  • Among students who reported that at least one parent had graduated from college, scores have increased since 1982 for 13- and 17-year-olds; however, 1999 and 1977 scores were similar at both ages.

  • Among students whose parents’ highest level of education was some education after high school, scores have increased since 1982 for 17-year-olds; however, 1999 and 1977 scores were similar for both 13- and 17-year-olds.

  • Among students whose parents did not go beyond high school graduation, scores have increased for 17-year-olds since 1982; however, the apparent difference between 1977 and 1999 at ages 13 and 17 was not statistically significant.

  • Among students whose parents did not finish high school, 1999 and 1977 scores were similar at age 17, and the apparent increase at age 13 was not statistically significant.

Trends in Average Scores by Type of School

The NAEP long-term trend assessment has examined public and nonpublic school students’ performance separately since 1980 in reading, 1978 in mathematics, and 1977 in science. In 1999, nonpublic school students outperformed their public school peers in each subject area and at each age. Trends in the performance of both groups of students are summarized below.

Reading Scores by Type of School

  • Among public school students, the average reading score of 9-year-olds was lower in 1999 than in 1980.

  • Among nonpublic school students, apparent increases between 1980 and 1999 at ages 13 and 17 were not statistically significant. At age 9, 1980 and 1999 average scores were similar.

Mathematics Scores by Type of School

  • Among public school students, overall gains in mathematics are evident for 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds since 1978.

  • Among nonpublic school students, overall gains are evident at ages 9 and 13; however, the apparent increase at age 17 was not statistically significant.

Science Scores by Type of School

  • Among public school students, overall gains in science are evident for 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds since 1977.

  • Among nonpublic school students, the apparent slight increase between 1977 and 1999 average scores at each age was not statistically significant.
Black and white photograph of three girls sitting together and happily talking, probably in the hall at school

Trends in School and Home Experiences

Students in the NAEP long-term trend assessment are asked several questions about school and home experiences considered to be related to achievement. Trends in students’ responses to some of the questions are summarized below.

Course-Taking Patterns

  • A greater percentage of 13-year-olds was taking prealgebra or algebra, and a smaller percentage was taking regular math in 1999 than in 1986.

  • A greater percentage of 17-year-olds had taken precalculus/calculus and algebra II in 1999 than in 1978.

    • Similar increases in advanced mathematics course-taking were seen for male and female 17-year-olds.

    • A greater percentage of black and Hispanic 17-year-olds, as well as white students, were taking algebra II in 1999 than in 1978; however, only white students showed a significant increase in the percentage taking precalculus/calculus.

  • A greater percentage of 13-year-olds in 1999 than in 1986 reported that the content of their science class was general, rather than focused on earth, physical, or life science.

  • Science course-taking among 17-year-olds increased between 1986 and 1999 at all levels of course work -- general science, biology, chemistry, and physics.


    • A greater percentage of male and female 17-year-olds had taken biology and chemistry in 1999 than in 1986.

    • The percentage of white 17-year-olds taking courses at each level of science course work increased between 1986 and 1999. The percentage of black and Hispanic 17-year-olds taking chemistry, and the percentage of blacks taking biology, also increased.

Technology and Scientific Equipment in the Classroom

  • A greater percentage of 13- and 17-year-olds in 1999 than in 1978 had access to a computer to learn mathematics, studied mathematics through computer instruction, and used a computer to solve mathematics problems.

  • A greater percentage of 9-year-olds in 1999 than in 1977 used the following equipment while learning science: meter stick, telescope, thermometer, compass, balance, and stopwatch.

Homework

  • Homework was more likely to be assigned in 1999 than in 1984 for 9-year-olds, and more likely to be assigned in 1999 than in 1980 for 13- and 17-year-olds. The amount of time students spend doing homework each day, however, has not changed significantly.

  • A greater percentage of 9- and 13-year-olds read more than 20 pages each day for school or for homework in 1999 than in 1984. There was no significant change, however, in the pages read per day by 17-year-olds.

  • A greater percentage of 17-year-olds said they do homework in mathematics classes often in 1999 than in 1978.

Home Experiences

  • The number of different types of reading materials in the home has decreased at all three ages between 1971 and 1999.

  • A smaller percentage of 13- and 17-year-olds read for fun daily in 1999 than in 1984. There was no significant change in frequency of reading for fun among 9-year-olds.

  • A smaller percentage of 17-year-olds saw adults reading in their homes in 1999 than in 1984.

  • A greater percentage of 17-year-olds were watching three or more hours of television each day in 1999 than in 1978. A smaller percentage of 9- and 13-year-olds were watching six or more hours of television each day in 1999 than in 1978.

PDF Download the complete report in a PDF file for viewing and printing. 1,080K

NCES 2000-469 Ordering information

Suggested Citation
U.S. Department of Education. Office of Educational Research and Improvement. National Center for Education Statistics. NAEP 1999 Trends in Academic Progress: Three Decades of Student Performance, NCES 2000-469, by J.R. Campbell, C.M. Hombo, and J. Mazzeo. Washington, DC: 2000.

Last updated 14 March 2001 (RH)

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