IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

New 2019 Reading and Mathematics Assessment Data on 4th- and 8th-Grade Students

The average reading score for U.S. 4th- and 8th-grade students decreased between 2017 and 2019. Changes in mathematics scores were mixed during this period, with an increase at grade 4 and a decrease at grade 8. These data are from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—also known as The Nation’s Report Card. NAEP is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what students in the United States know and can do in various subject areas and is frequently referred to as the “gold standard” of student assessments.

In 4th-grade reading, the average scale score in 2019 was 220, one point lower than in 2017 (figure 1). In 8th-grade reading, the average scale score was 263, three points lower than in 2017 (figure 2). Compared with a decade ago in 2009, the 2019 average reading scale scores at each grade were not significantly different, but they were higher than the scale scores in 1992, the first time the reading assessment was administered.


Figure 1. Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale scores of 4th-grade students: Selected years, 1992–2019

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2019

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Figure 2. Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale scores of 8th-grade students: Selected years, 1992–2019

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2019

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In 4th-grade mathematics, the average scale score in 2019 was 241, one point higher than in 2017 (figure 3). In 8th-grade mathematics, the average scale score in 2019 was 282, one point lower than in 2017 (figure 4). Like reading, average scale scores for mathematics at both grades in 2019 were not significantly different than in 2009. Mathematics scale scores for both grade were higher in 2019 than in 1990, the first time the mathematics assessments were administered.


Figure 3. Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mathematics scale scores of 4th-grade students: Selected years, 1990–2019

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2019

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Figure 4. Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mathematics scale scores of 8th-grade students: Selected years, 1990–2019

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2019

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The Nation’s Report Card also presents data by different demographic groups—such as race/ethnicity—gender, school type, and region. White and Black 4th- and 8th-grade students scored lower in reading in 2019 than in 2017. Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native 8th-grade students also scored lower in reading in 2019 than in 2017. In mathematics, 4th-grade Hispanic students scored higher in 2019 than in 2017, and 8th-grade American Indian/Alaska Native students scored lower in 2019 than in 2017. From 2017 to 2019, males’ scores increased in mathematics at grade 4 but decreased in reading at both grades.

NCES administered the 2019 NAEP mathematics and reading assessments to almost 600,000 4th- and 8th-graders in public and private schools in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of Defense schools, and 27 urban districts. Samples of schools and students are drawn from each state and from the District of Columbia and Department of Defense schools.

Visit to view the report.

Cost Considered “Very Important” to Parents Who Chose Relatives as Caregivers for Young Children

When it comes to choosing a child care arrangement, cost is a big factor in the choices parents make, according to recently released data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Every 3 years, NCES conducts the Early Childhood Program Participation (ECPP) component of the National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES) to answer questions about young children’s care and education before starting kindergarten. The ECPP survey reported that 60 percent of children under age 5 who were not yet in kindergarten participated in at least one weekly nonparental care arrangement in 2016. Of those receiving nonparental care,

  • 42 percent received only center-based care;
  • 25 percent received only relative care;
  • 20 percent received multiple types of care; and
  • 12 percent received only nonrelative care.

When asked what factors influenced their choice of child care arrangements, 51 percent of parents ranked the cost as “very important” when selecting an arrangement in 2016. This percentage was higher among parents of children in relative care (63 percent) than among parents of children in multiple types of care arrangements (50 percent) and parents of children only in center-based care (47 percent).

Overall, in 2016, some 39 percent of parents with children in nonparental care reported that they had difficulty finding child care. This rate was lowest for parents of children only in relative care (23 percent) and highest for parents of children only in nonrelative care (53 percent). However, among parents who had difficulty trying to find child care, cost was a larger concern for those with children only in relative care than it was for those with children in other arrangements (see figure 1).


Figure 1. Percentage of children under age 5 whose parents reported that cost was the primary reason for difficulty finding child care arrangements, by type of arrangement: 2016

NOTE: Data are for children participating in at least one weekly nonparental care arrangement. Excludes children enrolled in kindergarten.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, The Costs of Child Care: Results From the 2016 Early Childhood Program Participation Survey (ECPP-NHES:2016).


In 2016, fees were less common and costs were generally lower for parents with children in relative care than for parents with children in other types of nonparental care arrangements. Thirty-two percent of parents with children in at least one care arrangement were not charged fees for care, and 58 percent of those children were in relative care. Among children in relative care, 80 percent were cared for by grandparents. When parents paid grandparents for their children’s care, they paid an average of $4.86 per hour, less than the average across all types of care arrangements ($6.93 per hour).

For more detailed information about costs of child care, see The Costs of Child Care: Results From the 2016 Early Childhood Program Participation Survey (ECPP-NHES:2016).


By Tracae McClure and Sarah Grady

New Data Support Connection Between Hate-Related Words, Fear, Avoidance, and Absenteeism

Research shows that absenteeism is related to a number of negative outcomes for students, such as lower test scores and higher dropout rates, and often occurs when students feel unsafe, especially for those who experience hate-related harassment. Victims of prejudice or discrimination, including those who are called hate-related words, also experience poorer mental health and higher substance use compared with students who experience other types of harassment (Baams, Talamage, and Russell 2017).

The School Crime Supplement (SCS) defines hate-related words as insulting or bad names having to do with the victim’s race, religion, ethnic background or national origin, disability, gender, or sexual orientation. According to the 2017 SCS, 6 percent of students overall were called a hate-related word while at school. Of students who reported being called a hate-related word, a lower percentage of White students (26 percent) reported that the hate-related word was related to their race than did students who were Black (68 percent), Hispanic (52 percent), Asian (85 percent), and of All other races (64 percent). Additionally, female students were more likely than male students to be called a hate-related word related to their gender (23 vs. 7 percent).

In the 2017 SCS, students who were called a hate-related word felt more fear, practiced more avoidance behaviors, stayed home more from school due to fear, and generally skipped classes more than students who were not called a hate-related word. Specifically, of those students who were called a hate-related word at school,

  • 14 percent did not feel safe at school (compared with 2 percent of students who were not called a hate-related word);
  • 18 percent were afraid that someone would attack or harm them on school property (compared with 3 percent of students who were not called a hate-related word);
  • 27 percent avoided some location, class, or activity at school (compared with 5 percent of students who were not called a hate-related word);
  • 8 percent stayed home from school due to fear that someone would attack or harm them (compared with 1 percent of students who were not called a hate-related word); and
  • 11 percent had skipped class sometime in the previous 4 weeks (compared with 5 percent of students who were not called a hate-related word).

Figure 1. Percentage of students ages 12 through 18 who reported being called a hate-related word at school, by student reports of fears and avoidance behaviors: School year 2016–17

1 Those who responded “disagree” or “strongly disagree” to the following question: “Thinking about your school, would you strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with the following? You feel safe in your school.”

2 Those who responded “sometimes” or “most of the time” to the following question: “How often are you afraid that someone will attack or harm you in the school building or on school property?”

3 Those who responded “yes” to one of the following questions: “During this school year, did you ever stay away from any of the following places: shortest route to school; the entrance into the school; any hallways or stairs in school; parts of the school cafeteria or lunchroom; any school restrooms; other places inside the school building; school parking lot; other places on school grounds; school bus or bus stop?”; “Did you avoid any activities at your school because you thought someone might attack or harm you?”; or “Did you avoid any classes because you thought someone might attack or harm you?”

4 Those who responded “yes” to the following question: “Did you stay home from school because you thought someone might attack or harm you in the school building, on school property, on a school bus, or going to or from school?”

NOTE: Figure data include only students who reported being enrolled in grades 6 through 12 and who did not receive any of their education through homeschooling during the school year reported. Students responded to the following question: “During this school year, has anyone called you an insulting or bad name at school having to do with your race, religion, ethnic background or national origin, disability, gender, or sexual orientation? We call these hate-related words.” Population size based on the 2017 SCS for all students meeting the age, grade, and school criteria is 25,023,000.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 2017. See Table 16 in the crime table library.


You can find more information on student-reported experiences related to school crime and safety in NCES publications, including Student Reports of Bullying: Results From the 2017 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey and the 2018 Indicators of School Crime and Safety.


By Christina Yanez and Rebecca Mann, Synergy Enterprises, Inc., and Rachel Hansen, NCES



Baams, L., Talmage, C., and Russell, S. (2017). Economic Costs of Bias-Based Bullying. School Psychology Quarterly, 32(3): 422–433.

The Role of RELs in Making WWC Practice Guides Actionable for Educators

Earlier this year, I wrote a short blog about how I envisioned the Regional Educational Laboratories (REL) Program, The What Works Clearinghouse™ (WWC), and the Comprehensive Center Program could work together to take discovery to scale. In it, I promised I would follow-up with more thoughts on a specific—and critically important—example: making WWC Practice Guides actionable for educators. I do so below. At the end of this blog, I pose a few questions on which I welcome comments.

The challenge. The single most important resources the WWC produces are its Practice Guides. Practice Guides evaluate the research on a given topic—say, teaching fractions in elementary and middle school—and boil study findings down to a handful of evidence-based practices for educators. Each practice is given a rating to indicate the WWC’s confidence in the underlying evidence, along with tips for how practices can be implemented in the classroom. In many ways, Practice Guides are IES’s most specific and definitive statements about what works to improve education practice and promote student achievement.

Despite their importance, the amount of effort IES has intentionally dedicated to producing high-quality resources that support educators in implementing Practice Guide recommendations has been uneven. (By most measures, it has been on the decline.) Why? Although we have confidence that the materials we have already produced are high-quality, we cannot prove it. Rigor is part of our DNA, and the absence of systematic efficacy tests demonstrating tools’ contribution to improved teacher practice has made us hesitant to dramatically expand IES-branded resources.

To their credit, several organizations have stepped in to address the “last mile problem” between Practice Guides and classroom practice. Some, like RELs, are IES partners. As a result, we have seen a small number of Practice Guides turned in to professional learning community guides, massively on-line open courses, and other teacher-facing resources. Despite these efforts, similar resources have not been developed for the overwhelming majority of Practice Guides. This means many of our Guides and the dozens of recommendations for evidence-based practice they contain are languishing underused on IES’s virtual bookshelf.

An idea. IES should “back” the systematic transformation of Practice Guide recommendations from words on a page to high-quality materials that support teachers’ use of evidence-based practices in their classrooms. And because we should demonstrate our own practice works, those materials should be tested for efficacy.

From my perspective, RELs are well-suited to this task. This work unambiguously aligns with RELs’ purpose, which is to improve student achievement using scientifically-valid research. It also leverages RELs’ unique value proposition among federal technical assistance providers: the capacity to conduct rigorous research and development activities in partnership with state and local educators. If RELs took on a greater role in supporting Practice Guides in the next REL cycle—which runs from 2022 until 2027—what might it look like in practice?

One model involves RELs collaborating with state and/or district partners to design, pilot, and test a coherent set of resources (a “toolkit”) that help educators bring Practice Guide recommendations to life in the classroom. Potential products might include rubrics to audit current policy or practice, videos of high-quality instructional practice, sample classroom materials, or professional learning community facilitation guides, each linked to one or more Practice Guide recommendations.

Long-time followers of the WWC may recognize the design aspect of this work as similar to the defunct Doing What Works Program. The difference? New resources would not only be developed in collaboration with educators, they must be piloted and tested with them as well. It’s simple, really: if we expect educators to use evidence-based practices in the classroom, we need evidence-based tools to help teachers succeed when implementing them.  

Once vetted, materials must get into the hands of educators who need them. It’s here where the value of the REL-Comprehensive Center partnership becomes clear. With a mission of supporting each state education agency in its school improvement efforts, Regional Comprehensive Centers are in the ideal position to bring resources and implementation supports to state and local education leaders that meet their unique needs. Tools that are developed, piloted, and refined by a REL and educators in a single state can then be disseminated by the national network of Comprehensive Centers to meet other states’ needs.

Extensions. It isn’t hard to imagine other activities that the WWC, RELs, and Comprehensive Centers might take on to maximize this model’s potential effectiveness. Most hinge on building effective feedback loops.

Promoting continuous improvement of Practice Guide resources is an obvious example. RELs could and should be in the business of following Comprehensive Centers as they work with states and districts to implement REL-developed Practice Guide supports, looking for ways to maximize their effectiveness. Similarly, Comprehensive Centers and RELs should be regularly communicating with one another about needs-sensing, identifying areas where support for evidence-based practice is lacking and determining which partners to involve in the solution. When there is a growing body of evidence to support educator best practice, the WWC is in the best position to take the lead and develop a new Practice Guide. When that body of evidence does not exist yet—or when even the practices themselves are underdeveloped—the RELs and other parts of IES, such as the National Centers for Education and Special Education Research, should step in.  

Questions. When the WWC releases a new Practice Guide, its work may be done—at least temporarily. The work of its partners to support take-up of a Guide’s recommendations will, however, have just begun. I’d appreciate your thoughts on how to best accomplish that transition, and offer up the following additional questions for your consideration:

  1. Are we thinking about the problem correctly, and in a helpful way? Are there elements of the problem that should be redefined, and would that lead us to different solutions?


  1. What parts of the problem does this proposed solution address well, and where are its shortcomings? Are there other solutions—even solutions that don’t seem to fit squarely within today’s model of the REL Program—that might be more effective?


  1. If we proceed under a model like that which is described above:


  1. What sort of REL partnership models would be most effective in supporting the conceptualization, design, piloting, and testing of teacher-facing “toolkits” aligned to WWC Practice Guides?


  1. What research and evaluation activities—and which outcome measures—should be incorporated into this activity to give IES confidence that the resulting “toolkits” are likely to be associated with changed teacher practice and improved student outcomes?


  1. How does the 5-year limit on REL contracts affect the feasibility of this idea, including its scope and cost? What could be accomplished in 5 years, and what might take longer to see to completion?


  1. How could RELs leverage existing ED-sponsored content, such as that created by Doing What Works, in service of this new effort?


If you have thoughts on these questions or other feedback you would like to share, please e-mail me. I can be reached directly at Thanks in advance for the consideration!

by Matthew Soldner, NCEE Commissioner 

Calling All Students to the Mars 2020 “Name the Rover” Contest

On August 27, 2019, NASA launched a national contest for Kindergarten to Grade 12 students to name the Mars 2020 rover, the newest robotic scientist to be sent to Mars.  Scheduled to launch aboard a rocket in July 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and touch down on Mars in February 2021, the to-be-named rover weighs more than 2,300 pounds (1,000 kilograms) and will search for astrobiological signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.

By focusing the Mars 2020 “Name the Rover” contest on K to 12 students, NASA seeks to engage U.S. students in the engineering and scientific work that makes Mars exploration possible. The contest also supports national goals to stimulate interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and help create the next generation of STEM leaders.

Students can sign up and submit their entries for the competition at Entries must include a proposed name for the rover and a short essay of 150 words or less explaining the reasons for the name. NASA will select 156 state winners (one from each state and age group), before narrowing down to the top 9 entries that will be part of a public poll. The grand prize winner who will name the rover will be selected and announced in spring of 2020.

Even if you are not a student you can still participate. US residents over the age of 18 can apply to be judges for the contest to help NASA make their selection.

The Mars 2020 Project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages rover development for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management.

NASA Partners with an ED/IES SBIR Awardee to Run the Contest

The education technology firm that NASA selected to help run the competition is Burbank, California-based, Future Engineers.  The “Name the Rover” contest leverages Future Engineers’ online challenge platform, which was developed with the support of a 2017 award from the US Department of Education and Institute of Education Sciences’ Small Business Innovation Research program (ED/IES SBIR).  The platform will receive, manage, display, and judge what is anticipated to be tens of thousands or more student submissions from around the country.

Future Engineers has a history of collaborating on space-themed student challenges. The company previously ran a national competition series in 2018 for the ASME Foundation with technical assistance from NASA, where K-12 students submitted digital designs of useful objects that could be 3D printed on the International Space Station, resulting in the first student-designed 3D print in space.

Future Engineers developed its platform to be an online hub for classrooms and educators to access free, project-based STEM activities, and to provide a portal where students submit and compete in different kinds of maker and innovation challenges across the country. The Mars 2020 “Name the Rover” contest will be the first naming challenge issued on its platform.

We look forward to the results of the competition!

Originally posted on the U.S. Department of Education’s Homeroom blog.

Edward Metz is a research scientist at the Institute of Education Sciences in the US Department of Education.

Bob Collom is an integration lead in the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters.


The U.S. Department of Education’s Small Business Innovation Research program, administered by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), funds projects to develop education technology products designed to support students, teachers, or administrators in general or special education. The program emphasizes rigorous and relevant research to inform iterative development and to evaluate whether fully-developed products show promise for leading to the intended outcomes. The program also focuses on commercialization once the award period ends so that products can reach students and teachers and be sustained over time. ED/IES SBIR-supported products are currently used by millions of students in thousands of schools around the country.

About NASA’s Mars Exploration Program (MEP)

NASA’s Mars Exploration Program (MEP) in the Planetary Science Division is a science-driven program that seeks to understand whether Mars was, is, or can be, a habitable world. To find out, we need to understand how geologic, climatic, and other processes have worked to shape Mars and its environment over time, as well as how they interact today. To that end, all of our future missions will be driven by rigorous scientific questions that will continuously evolve as we make new discoveries. MEP continues to explore Mars and to provide a continuous flow of scientific information and discovery through a carefully selected series of robotic orbiters, landers and mobile laboratories interconnected by a high-bandwidth Mars/Earth communications network.