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NAEP 1996 Mathematics Report Card for the Nation and the States

February 1997

Authors: Clyde M. Reese, Karen E. Miller, and John Mazzeo (Educational Testing Service), and John A. Dossey (Illinois State University)

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Executive Summary [1]

For more than a quarter of a century, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has reported to policy makers, educators, and the general public on the educational achievement of students in the United States. As the nation's only ongoing survey of students' educational progress, NAEP has become an important resource for obtaining information on what students know and can do.

The NAEP 1996 mathematics assessment continues the mandate to evaluate and report the educational progress of students at grades 4, 8, and 12. The national results provided herein describe students' mathematics achievement at each grade and within various subgroups of the general population. State-level results for grades 4 and 8 are presented for individual states and jurisdictions that chose to participate in the 1996 state assessment. In addition, trends in performance since 1990 are reported for the nation and for states and jurisdictions that participated in the 1990, 1992, and 1996 assessments. NAEP national and state data assess the performance of students in both public and nonpublic schools.

The NAEP 1996 Mathematics Framework

The NAEP 1996 mathematics assessment, like previous mathematics assessments in 1992 and 1990, uses a framework influenced by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics. The 1996 framework was updated to more adequately reflect recent curricular emphases and objectives.

The framework measures a mathematics domain containing five mathematics strands (number sense, properties, and operations; measurement; geometry and spatial sense; data analysis, statistics, and probability; and algebra and functions). In addition to the five content strands, the assessment examined mathematical abilities (conceptual understanding, procedural knowledge, and problem solving) and mathematical power (reasoning, connections, and communication). Since 1990, the NAEP mathematics assessments have placed increasing emphasis on mathematical power. The 1996 assessment deliberately focused on reasoning and communication by requiring students to connect their learning across mathematical strands.

Student Achievement

Students' mathematics performance is summarized on the NAEP mathematics scale, which ranges from 0 to 500. In addition, results for each grade are reported according to three achievement levels: Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. The National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) developed and adopted the mathematics achievement levels, based on collective judgments about what students should know and be able to do in mathematics. The Basic level denotes partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade. The Proficient level represents solid academic performance, while the Advanced level signifies superior performance. These achievement levels are still developmental, and the process for setting them remains in transition.

Major Findings for the Nation, Regions, and States [2]

National data from the NAEP 1996 mathematics assessment showed progress in the mathematics performance by students on a broad front, compared with both the 1990 and 1992 assessments.

  • Students' scores on the NAEP mathematics scale increased for all three grades. Scores were higher in 1996 than in 1992 for all three grades, and higher in 1992 than in 1990. The national average scale score for fourth graders in 1996 was 224, an increase of 11 points over the national average for 1990; the average for eighth graders in 1996 was 272, an increase of 9 points; and the average score for twelfth graders was 304, also an increase of 10 points.
  • Student performance also increased as measured by the three mathematics achievement levels set by NAGB. The percentage of students at or above the Basic level increased for all three grades. The percentage of fourth-grade students at or above the Proficient level increased from 1990 to 1992, and from 1992 to 1996, while the percentage of eighth- and twelfth-grade students at or above the Proficient level increased over the period 1990 to 1996. However, only eighth-grade students showed an increase in the percentage at the Advanced level, and this increase was for the period 1990 to 1996.
  • For fourth-grade students, the percentage performing at or above the Basic level was 64 percent in 1996, as compared to 50 percent in 1990; for eighth-grade students, 62 percent as compared to 52 percent; and for twelfth-grade students, 69 percent as compared to 58 percent.

Regional results showed positive trends similar to the national results for some but not all regions. NAEP divides the United States into four regions: the Northeast, Southeast, Central, and West.

  • The Southeast and Central regions recorded increases in the average NAEP mathematics scale scores over the period 1990 to 1996 for all three grades. The Northeast recorded an increase for fourth graders only, while the West showed an increase for twelfth grades only.
  • For fourth-grade students, average scale scores were higher in the Northeast and Central than the Southeast and West; for eighth-grade students, scores in the Central were higher than the West; and for the twelfth-grade students, scores in the Southeast were lower than the other three regions.

State data for the NAEP 1996 mathematics assessment covered fourth graders in 47 states, territories, and other jurisdictions and eighth graders in 44 states and jurisdictions. Many but not all states and jurisdictions showed increases in mathematics performance for the 1996 assessment.

  • Fourth graders in 15 of the 39 states and jurisdictions that participated in both the 1992 and 1996 assessments showed an increase in their average scale scores for 1996.
  • Eighth graders in 13 of the 37 states and jurisdictions that participated in both the 1992 and 1996 assessments showed an increase in their average scale scores.
  • Eighth graders in 27 of the 32 jurisdictions that participated in both the 1990 and 1996 assessments showed an increase in their average scale scores.
  • Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia reported increases in the percentages of fourth graders who scored at or above the Basic and Proficient achievement levels over the period 1992 to 1996.
  • Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Wisconsin reported increases in the percentages of eighth graders who scored at or above all three achievement levels over the period 1990 to 1996.

Major Findings for Student Subgroups

The NAEP 1996 mathematics assessment reports national results on the basis of demographic subgroups, type of school attended, participation in Title I programs, and eligibility for the free/reduced-price lunch component of the National School Lunch Program.

  • Average scale scores for eighth- and twelfth-grade males and females showed no significant differences in 1996. Scores for fourth-grade males were higher than scores for fourth-grade females.
  • White students recorded increases in their average mathematics scale scores for all three grades over the period 1990 to 1996.
  • Black and Hispanic students recorded increases in their average mathematics scale scores for grades 4 and 12 over the period 1990 to 1996
  • Scores for Black, Hispanic, and American Indian students remained below scale scores for White students. The gaps between scores for these subgroups did not change in 1996.
  • Generally, students with higher scale scores reported higher levels of parental education. The more education parents had, the higher the scores of their children.
  • Both public and nonpublic schools showed increased scale scores for fourth- and eighth-grade students. Public schools showed increased scores for twelfth-grade students as well. Students attending nonpublic schools continued to outperform their peers attending public schools.
  • Fourth- and eighth-grade students receiving services supplied by Title I programs had lower scale scores than those who did not participate in Title I. (The sample for twelfth graders who participated was not large enough to permit a comparison.) Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provides funding to local educational agencies to meet the needs of children who are failing or most at risk of failing. For this reason, the difference between the scores cannot be taken as an indication that Title I programs fail to benefit students. The NAEP 1996 mathematics assessment was the first mathematics assessment to collect data on these students.
  • Students eligible for the free/reduced-price lunch program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scored lower than those not eligible, for all three grades. Eligibility for free/reduced-price lunches is determined by the USDA's Income Eligibility Guidelines. Information on eligibility was lacking for 16 percent of fourth graders, 17 percent of eighth graders, and 27 percent of twelfth graders. The NAEP 1996 mathematics assessment was the first mathematics assessment to collect data on these students.

Exploring a More Inclusive NAEP

NAEP has always attempted to report results that reflect the achievement of all students at a given grade or age. Logistical difficulties prevent the sampling of certain students, for example, students who receive home schooling, who are in ungraded schools, who attend special schools for the deaf and blind, or who are incarcerated. Some students who are enrolled in regular schools also present special considerations with respect to sampling -- those with disabilities and those who are limited English proficient (LEP). NAEP 1996 results indicate that 15 percent of the nation's fourth graders, 11 percent of the eighth graders, and 8 percent of twelfth graders are classified as students with disabilities or as LEP students. Previous NAEP assessments sampled more than half of these students.

The NAEP 1996 assessments investigated the feasibility of increasing the participation of students with disabilities and LEP students. Revised inclusion criteria, in combination with accommodations to remove barriers to participation, were examined to determine their impact of participation rate, for students with disabilities and LEP students.

The analysis of inclusion issues featured in this report is only a first step in an ongoing research and development effort. A comprehensive research report on inclusion issues will be published later in 1997.


  1. The Executive Summary for this report was prepared by Alan Vanneman of the Education Statistics Services Institute.

  2. In all discussions of differences in mathematics performance, either over time or between subgroups, only statistically significant differences are reported. Such differences are unlikely to be due to chance factors.

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NCES 97-488 Ordering information

Last updated 22 March 2001 (RH)

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