Skip Navigation

K-12 Learning and Engagement DomainK–12 Learning and Engagement Domain

“What students learn and how they perform in school positions them for future success

Students’ learning and development during their elementary, middle, and high school years is central to their eventual success in life and work. Strong academic performance, particularly in rigorous coursework, has been associated with a wide range of positive academic and workforce outcomes.2, 3 Importantly, learning and development take effort—which depends on students’ active engagement with peers, educators, their school community, and academic content. Recent research on engagement in learning consistently describes it as a multidimensional construct reflecting behavioral, emotional, and cognitive components.4, 5 Lack of engagement, such as through chronic absenteeism6 directly impedes learning.7 This domain, K–12 learning and engagement, is examined in relation to three indicators—engagement in schooling, performance in coursework, and performance on assessments—using data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the NAEP High School Transcript Study (HSTS), and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011). These indicators are based on recommendations in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) framework. The NASEM report notes that some of the recommended indicators have limitations. Currently, the Equity in Education Dashboard provides data based on published products. Because data in our published products do not always perfectly align with the recommended indicators in the NASEM report, we have indicated where our data differ from recommendations in the report. More findings will be added to the Equity in Education Dashboard over time. Group differences in the K-12 learning and engagement equity domain are examined across several educational equity dimensions: sex,8 race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status (SES), English learner (EL) status, and school poverty level, wherever the data allow.9

Key Findings on K-12 Learning and Engagement:

The Performance in Coursework indicator examines three constructs: success in classes (measured by course completion at different curriculum levels), credit accumulation, and grade point average (GPA).

  • Curriculum level attained differed by gender and race/ethnicity.
    • A higher percentage of female high school graduates attained a midlevel curriculum than did male graduates in 2000, 2009, and 2019.
    • Twenty-eight percent of Asian/Pacific Islander high school graduates attained a rigorous curriculum in 2019, which was higher than the percentages for the other reported racial/ethnic groups.
  • There were no measurable changes in the gaps in credit accumulation by gender or race/ethnicity between 2009 and 2019.
    • While female graduates earned more total Carnegie credits, on average, than male graduates in 1990, 2000, 2009, and 2019, the 2019 female-male gap of 0.4 Carnegie credits was not significantly different from the female-male gaps in credits appearing in 1990, 2000, and 2009.
    • There were no significant changes in the 2019 gaps between White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander students compared to the gaps in 2009.
  • Average GPAs differ by gender and race/ethnicity.
    • In 2019, female graduates had an average overall GPA of 3.23, which was higher than the average overall GPA of 3.00 for male graduates.
    • Between 1990 and 2019, the average overall GPAs of high school graduates in the four reported student racial/ethnic groups (White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander) increased.

Explore this indicator

The Performance on Tests indicator examines two constructs: student achievement and learning growth on reading, mathematics, and science assessments.

  • In 2022, there were differences in average reading scores by EL status and gender.10
    • The average reading scores for both 4th- and 8th-grade EL students was lower than the scores for their non-EL peers in 2022.
    • The average reading scores for both 4th- and 8th-grade female students was higher than for male students in 2022. This pattern has held true for every assessment year since 1992.
  • In 2022, there were differences in average mathematics scores by race/ethnicity.
    • For both 4th- and 8th-grade students, average mathematics scores were highest for Asian students, followed by White students. For both 4th- and 8th-grade students, average mathematics scores were lowest for Black students.
  • There were differences in average science scores by race/ethnicity and school poverty level in 2019.
    • While the average science scores for White 4th- and 8th-grade students were higher than those of their Black and Hispanic peers in 2019, racial/ethnic achievement gaps in 2019 were smaller than in 2009.
    • In 2019, students in grades 4, 8, and 12 in high-poverty schools had lower average science scores than students in mid-high poverty, mid-low poverty, and low-poverty schools. 

Explore this indicator

1 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). Monitoring Educational Equity (pp. 7-8). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

2 Heckman, J., Stixrud, J., Urzua, S. (2006). The Effects of Cognitive and Noncognitive Abilities on Labor Market Outcomes and Social Behavior. Journal of Labor Economics, 24: 411–482.

3 Murnane, R. J., Willett, J. B., Duhaldeborde, Y., and Tyler, J. H. (2000). How Important Are the Cognitive Skills of Teenagers in Predicting Subsequent Earnings? Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 19, 547–568.

4 Appleton, J.J., Christenson, S.L., and Furlong, M.J. (2008). Student Engagement With School: Critical Conceptual and Methodological Issues of the Construct. Psychology in the Schools, 45(5): 369–386.

5 Fredricks, J.A., Blumenfeld, P.C., and Paris, A. (2004). School Engagement: Potential of the Concept: State of the Evidence. Review of Educational Research, 74: 59–119.

6 For more information on chronic absenteeism and the COVID-19 pandemic, visit the NCES School Pulse Survey page:

7 Smerillo, N. E., Reynolds, A. J., Temple, J. A., and Ou, S. R. (2018). Chronic Absence, Eighth-Grade Achievement, and High School Attainment in the Chicago Longitudinal Study. Journal of school Psychology, 67, 163–178.

8 This domain presents a compilation of data from various sources crossing several periods of time. Within each indicator, the term “gender” or “sex” is used as presented by the original data source at the time.

9 Not all equity dimensions, such as race/ethnicity, sex, socioeconomic status, English learner status, and disability status, are examined for all constructs.

10 Reading assessments were in English, but accommodations were made for English learners and for students with disabilities in years other than 1992 and 1994. For more information, visit the NAEP website: