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Mathematics

Question:
How are American students performing in mathematics?

Response:

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assesses student performance in mathematics at grades 4, 8, and 12 in both public and private schools across the nation. NAEP mathematics scale scores range from 0 to 500 for grades 4 and 8 and from 0 to 300 for grade 12.1 NAEP achievement levels define what students should know and be able to do: NAEP Basic indicates partial mastery of fundamental skills, NAEP Proficient indicates solid academic performance and demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, and NAEP Advanced indicates superior performance beyond proficient.2 NAEP mathematics assessments have been administered periodically since 1990, more frequently in grades 4 and 8 than in grade 12.3 The most recent mathematics assessments were conducted in 2019 for grades 4, 8, and 12; however, data for grade 12 in 2019 were not available in time for publication. In this Fast Fact, data for grade 12 come from the 2015 assessment, the most recent NAEP assessment year with available data.4

The average mathematics score for 4th-grade students in 2019 (241) was higher than the scores in both 2017 (240) and 1990 (213). For 8th-grade students, the mathematics score in 2019 (282) was lower than the score in 2017 (283), but it was higher than the score in 1990 (263). The mathematics score for 12th-grade students in 2015 (152) was lower than the score in 2013 (153), but it was not measurably different from the score in 2005, the earliest year with comparable data.5


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

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

NOTE: Includes public and private schools. Average scores are reported on a 0–500 scale at grades 4 and 8; however, the scale scores were derived separately and therefore scores cannot be compared across grades. Grade 12 mathematics scores are not shown because they are reported on a scale of 0 to 300. Testing accommodations (e.g., extended time, small-group testing) for children with disabilities and English language learners were not permitted in 1990 and 1992.


In 2019, some 81 percent of 4th-grade students performed at or above the NAEP Basic achievement level in mathematics, 41 percent performed at or above NAEP Proficient, and 9 percent performed at NAEP Advanced. The percentage of 4th-grade students who performed at or above NAEP Basic in 2019 was higher than the percentages in both 2017 (80 percent) and 1990 (50 percent). The percentage of 4th-grade students who performed at or above NAEP Proficient in 2019 was not measurably different from the percentage in 2017, but it was higher than the percentage in 1990 (13 percent). The percentage of 4th-grade students who performed at NAEP Advanced in 2019 was higher than the percentages in both 2017 (8 percent) and 1990 (1 percent).

In 2019, some 69 percent of 8th-grade students performed at or above the NAEP Basic achievement level in mathematics, 34 percent performed at or above NAEP Proficient, and 10 percent performed at NAEP Advanced. The percentage of 8th-grade students who performed at or above NAEP Basic in 2019 was lower than the percentage in 2017 (70 percent), but it was higher than the percentage in 1990 (52 percent). The percentage of 8th-grade students who performed at or above NAEP Proficient in 2019 was not measurably different from the percentage in 2017, but it was higher than the percentage in 1990 (15 percent). Similarly, the percentage of 8th-grade students who performed at NAEP Advanced in 2019 was not measurably different from the percentage in 2017, but it was higher than the percentage in 1990 (2 percent).

In 2015, some 62 percent of 12th-grade students performed at or above the NAEP Basic achievement level in mathematics, 25 percent performed at or above NAEP Proficient, and 3 percent performed at NAEP Advanced. The percentage of 12th-grade students who performed at or above NAEP Basic in 2015 was lower than the percentage in 2013 (65 percent), but it was not measurably different from the percentage in 2005. The percentage of 12th-grade students who performed at or above NAEP Proficient was not measurably different from the percentages in 2013 and in 2005. Similarly, the percentage of 12th-grade students who performed at NAEP Advanced in 2015 was not measurably different from the percentages in 2013 and 2005.


1Average scores are reported on a 0–500 scale at grades 4 and 8; however, the scale scores were derived separately and therefore scores cannot be compared across grades.

2 NAEP achievement-level setting is based on the judgments of a broadly representative panel of teachers, education specialists, and members of the general public. The authorizing legislation for NAEP requires that the achievement levels be used on a trial basis until the Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) determines that the achievement levels are reasonable, valid, and informative to the public (20 USC § 9622(e)(2)(C)). The NCES Commissioner’s determination is to be based on a congressionally mandated, rigorous, and independent evaluation. The latest evaluation of the achievement levels was conducted by a committee convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in 2016. The evaluation concluded that further evidence should be gathered to determine whether the achievement levels are reasonable, valid, and informative. Accordingly, the NCES Commissioner determined that the trial status of the achievement levels should be maintained at this time. Read more about the NAEP mathematics achievement levels by grade.

3 This Fast Fact presents data from the Main NAEP mathematics assessment, which is not comparable to the Long-Term Trend NAEP mathematics assessment. The Main NAEP mathematics assessment was first administered in 1990 and assesses student performance at grades 4, 8, and 12, while the Long-Term Trend NAEP mathematics assessment was first administered in 1973 and assesses student performance at ages 9, 13, and 17. In addition, the two assessments differ in the content assessed, how often the assessment is administered, and how the results are reported.

4 NAEP mathematics scores for 4th-grade students in 2019 had a mean of 241 and a standard deviation (SD) of 32. NAEP mathematics scores for 8th-grade students in 2019 had a mean of 282 and an SD of 40. NAEP mathematics scores for 12th-grade students in 2015 had a mean of 152 and an SD of 34 (retrieved December 20, 2019, from the Main NAEP Data Explorer).

5 The 2005 mathematics framework for grade 12 introduced changes from the previous framework in order to reflect adjustments in curricular emphases and to ensure an appropriate balance of content. Consequently, the 12th-grade mathematics results in 2005 and subsequent years could not be compared to previous assessments, and a new trend line was established beginning in 2005.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2020). The Condition of Education 2020 (NCES 2020-144), Mathematics Performance.

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