Skip Navigation

About - Overview

Image of blue dots in the shape of a world map

Since the late 1980s, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has coordinated the United States' participation in international studies. These include the large-scale surveys comparing early childhood learning, student performance, teacher training and teaching, as well as adult skills.

International Studies Brochure PDF File (144 KB)

The main purposes of international comparisons are to:

  • Provide information for international benchmarking
    How does U.S. performance compare with that of other countries? How do U.S. states compare with other countries and education systems?
  • Understand variation in schooling around the world
    What does schooling look like in other countries due to the differences in culture and education systems?
  • Improve education by informing policy, research, and practices
    What can we learn from others about what works (and what doesn't)? What could be adopted by or adapted for the U.S.?

Over the past 30 years, the United States has expanded its participation in international studies to include comparisons of early childhood learning, "K-12" student performance, teacher training and practices, and adult skills in the domains of reading, mathematics, science, civics, financial literacy, problem solving, and computer and information literacy.

The following figure identifies the target age groups and subject areas or "domains" of the comparative international studies that NCES currently conducts in the United States.

International Studies' Subject Areas Across the Lifespan

Early Childhood

  • Emerging literacy
  • Emerging numeracy
  • Empathy and trust
  • Self-regulation

Elementary School

  • Reading
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Online reading

Middle School

  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Teachers and teaching
  • Computer and information literacy

High School

  • Reading
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Financial literacy
  • Collaborative problem solving
  • Advanced mathematics and physics


  • Literacy
  • Numeracy
  • Problem solving