Skip Navigation
small NCES header image

2012 Spotlight

A Closer Look at High School Students in the United States Over the Last 20 Years

Achievement

In this section, we examine how the achievement of high school students has changed over the last two decades. We look at the long-term trend NAEP to see trends in reading and mathematics for 17-year-olds since 1973, the main NAEP to see how scores have changed for 12th-graders in history, geography and civics since the mid-1990s, and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) to see how the performance of U.S. 15-year-olds has changed relative to the rest of the world in reading since 2000 and in mathematics since 2003.

The long-term trend NAEP provides information on the reading and mathematics achievement of 9-, 13-, and 17-yearolds in the United States. Data have been collected every 2 to 5 years since 1971 for reading and since 1973 for mathematics. Since 1990, reading and mathematics assessments have been administered in the same years. All scores are on a scale of 0 to 500 (see The Condition of Education 2010, indicator 13).

The performance of 17-year-olds on the 2008 reading and mathematics assessments was not measurably different from their performance in the early 1970s. The average reading score for 17-year-olds was lower in 2008 (286) than in 1990 (290), but was not significantly different from the score in 1971 (285). In mathematics, the average score for 17-year-olds in 2008 (306) was not significantly different from the scores in either 1990 (305) or 1973 (304). Main NAEP tests measure student performance in mathematics and reading every two years. Other subjects, such as science and writing, are also assessed. Although long-term trend and main NAEP both assess mathematics and reading, there are several differences, in particular in the content assessed, how often the assessment is administered, and how the results are reported. Students are selected by grade (4, 8, and 12) for the main NAEP, rather than by age. Students represent the nation and, in some assessments, their states or selected large urban districts. To provide state- and district-level results, far more students must participate than for national results only; these larger sample sizes permit even more detailed results.

In 2010, the main National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessed students’ knowledge of U.S. history, geography, and civics in grades 4, 8, and 12 (see indicator 25). For U.S. history, the average score for 12th-grade students was higher in 2010 (288) than in 1994 (286). At grade 12, the U.S. history scores were higher in 2010 than in 1994 for White (296 vs. 292 points), Hispanic (275 vs. 267 points), and Asian/Pacific Islander students (293 vs. 283 points). Male 12th-graders scored 4 points higher than female 12th-graders (290 vs. 286 points) in the 2010 U.S. history assessment. The grade 12 U.S. history score for male students was 2 points higher in 2010 (290) than in 1994 (288), while the score for female students was not measurably different.

For geography, the score for 12th-grade students was lower in 2010 (282) than in 1994 (285). At grade 12, none of the racial/ethnic groups had geography scores that were measurably different between 1994 and 2010. Male 12th-graders scored 5 points higher than female 12th-graders (285 vs. 280 points) in the 2010 geography assessment. The geography score for male 12th-graders was lower in 2010 (285) than in 1994 (288), while the score for female 12th-graders was not measurably different.

For civics, the average score for 12th-grade students was not measurably different in 2010 (148) than in 1998 (150). At grade 12, the average civics score for Hispanic students was higher in 2010 (137) than in 1998 (132), but the scores for other racial/ethnic groups were not measurably different. The average civics score for female 12th-grade students was lower in 2010 (148) than in 1998 (152), while the score for male 12th-grade students was not measurably different between the 2 years.

The 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) reports the performance of 15-year-old students in reading and mathematics literacy in 65 countries and other education systems, including the 34 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, 26 non-OECD countries, and 5 other education systems. The OECD countries are a group of the world’s most advanced economies. Other education systems refer to non-national entities such as Shanghai- China. PISA scores are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000. The U.S. students’ average score on the PISA combined reading literacy scale (500) was not measurably different from the average score of OECD countries (493) (see The Condition of Education 2011, indicator 15). Compared with the other 64 countries and other education systems, the U.S. average was lower than the average in 9 countries and other education systems (6 OECD countries, 1 non-OECD country, and 2 education systems) and higher than the average in 39 countries and other education systems (13 OECD countries, 24 non-OECD countries, and 2 other education systems). The U.S. average in reading literacy in 2000 (504), the earliest PISA cycle in which reading literacy was assessed in depth, was not measurably different from the average in 2009 (500). There were no measurable differences between the U.S. average and the OECD average in 2000 (504 and 496, respectively) or in 2009 (500 and 495, respectively).

The average U.S. mathematics literacy score (487) in 2009 was lower than the average score of the 34 OECD countries (496) (see The Condition of Education 2011, indicator 16). In comparison with students in all 64 other countries and education systems, students in the United States on average scored lower than students in 23 countries and other education systems (17 OECD countries, 2 non-OECD countries, and 4 other education systems) and higher than students in 29 countries and other education systems (5 OECD countries, 23 non-OECD countries, and 1 other education system). No measurable difference was found between the average U.S. mathematics literacy scores in 2009 (487) and 2003 (483), the earliest time point to which PISA 2009 mathematics literacy scores can be compared. In both years, the U.S. average score was lower than the OECD average score.

Would you like to help us improve our products and website by taking a short survey?

YES, I would like to take the survey

or

No Thanks

The survey consists of a few short questions and takes less than one minute to complete.
National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
U.S. Department of Education