Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Minorities
NCES 2010-015
July 2010

Chapter 3. Achievement

Indicator 10: Proficiency of 4-Year-Olds
Indicator 11: Reading and Mathematics Achievement
Indicator 12: International Comparisons
Indicator 13: Mathematics and Science Coursetaking in High School
Indicator 14: Advanced Placement (AP) Courses
      Snapshot of Hispanic Subgroups: Advanced Placement
Indicator 15: College Entrance Exams

Chapter 3 focuses on different measures of academic achievement for elementary and secondary students. In 2005, Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native 4-year-olds from the 2001 birth cohort had lower rates of proficiency in letter recognition than White, Black, and Asian children and children of two or more races (indicator 10).

On the 2007 main National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading assessment, higher percentages of Asian/Pacific Islander and White 4th- and 8th-graders scored at or above Proficient than did Black, Hispanic, or American Indian/Alaska Native students at the same grade levels. At 12th grade, a higher percentage of White students scored at or above Proficient than did Asian/Pacific Islander, Black, and Hispanic students. On the 2009 (4th and 8th grade) and 2005 (12th grade) NAEP mathematics assessment, a higher proportion of Asians/Pacific Islanders in 4th, 8th, and 12th grade scored at or above Proficient than did White, Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-graders (indicator 11).

On an international level, U.S. 4th- and 8th-graders scored higher than the international average on the 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Within the United States, Asian students scored higher in mathematics than any other race/ethnicity at both the 4th- and 8th-grade level. A similar pattern held for science, with the exception that there was no measurable difference between the scores of Asian students and White students at either 4th or 8th grade (indicator 12).

Another way to measure student achievement is by the courses that students complete in high school. In 2005, a smaller percentage of Hispanic students took geometry, algebra II, and statistics than did White, Black, or Asian/Pacific Islander students. A higher percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander students took chemistry and physics than did White, Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native students (indicator 13). 

High school students who wish to advance in a particular area of study may take Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Students who take an AP exam can earn college credit based on their scores. In 2008, over 1.5 million students in the United States took an AP exam, up from nearly 0.7 million students in 1999. Black students experienced the largest percentage increase in the number of students taking an AP exam during this time period. Similarly, the number of Hispanics participating in the AP program has more than tripled between 1999 and 2008 (indicator 14).

College entrance examination test-takers have become more diverse over the past decade. In 1998, Hispanic students represented 9 percent of SAT test-takers and 6 percent of ACT test-takers. By 2008, those percentages had increased to 13 percent and 9 percent, respectively. On the SAT, White students had the highest average critical reading score in 2008 and Asian students had the highest average mathematics score. On the ACT exam, one-third of Asian students met the college readiness benchmarks on all four sections, compared with 3 percent of Black students (indicator 15).