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Long-term trends in reading and mathematics achievement

What are the long-term trends in student achievement in reading and mathematics?


Since the 1970s, the long-term trend National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has reported periodic information on the reading and mathematics achievement of 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds enrolled in public and private schools. Nearly five decades of results offer an extended view of student achievement in reading and mathematics. Results reported in this Fast Fact focus on 2020 assessment data, which include the performance of nationally representative samples of 9-year-old and 13-year-old students.

The 2020 average scores in reading and mathematics for 13-year-olds were higher than the earliest assessments but declined since 2012. Scores for the lowest-performing students (at the 10th percentile) decreased from 2012 at both ages and subjects.

The average reading score for 9-year-old students was 12 points higher in 2020 than in 1971, but not significantly different from the average score in 2012. Thirteen-year-olds scored higher in 2020 with a 5-point gain from 1971, but lower in comparison to 2012.

The overall national trend in mathematics shows improvement for 9-year-old and 13-year-old students in comparison to 1973. The average mathematics score for 9-year-old students was 22 points higher in 2020 than in 1973, and the score for 13-year-olds was 14 points higher. The 2020 average mathematics score at age 13 was lower in comparison to 2012, but there was no significant change in the 2020 average score for 9-year-olds since 2012.

Changes in NAEP long-term trend reading and mathematics average scores by age group

The data in this figure is described in the surrounding text.

NOTE: Results for 1971 and 1973 are from the original assessment format, and results for 2012 and 2020 are from the revised assessment format. The 1973 mathematics data were extrapolated. See the About page for more information.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2021). 2020 Long-Term Trend Reading and Mathematics Assessment Results at Age 9 and Age 13.

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