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America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016

Mathematics and Reading Achievement

The extent of children's knowledge, as well as their ability to think, learn, and communicate, affects their likelihood of becoming productive adults and active citizens. Mathematics and reading achievement test scores measure students' skills in these subjects and are good indicators of overall achievement in school. Students with lower levels of academic achievement tend to have less favorable education outcomes. In addition, differences in academic performance between groups of students, or achievement gaps, have long been documented for students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Figure 22: Average mathematics scale scores for 4th-grade students by race and Hispanic origin, 1990, 2013, and 2015
Average mathematics scale scores for 4th-grade students by race and Hispanic origin, 1990, 2013, and 2015

‡ Reporting standards not met (too few cases for a reliable estimate).

NOTE: To assess progress in mathematics and reading, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) measures trends in the academic performance of U.S. students, including those in public and private schools. Testing accommodations (e.g., extended time, small group testing) for children with disabilities and English language learners were not permitted in 1990. Data on race and Hispanic origin are collected separately and combined for reporting according to 1997 Office of Management and Budget Standards for Data on Race and Ethnicity. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress.

  • At grade 4, the average mathematics scores for non-Hispanic White, Black, and Asian or Pacific Islander students were all higher in 2015 than in 1990; this finding also held for Hispanic students.
  • In 2015 and in all previous assessment years, the average mathematics score for White, non-Hispanic 4th-grade students was higher than the scores for their Black, non-Hispanic and Hispanic peers. However, there has been some narrowing of racial and ethnic achievement gaps for 4th-grade students over time. For example, the White-Black mathematics achievement gap at grade 4 narrowed from 32 points in 1990 to 24 points in 2015.
  • Despite increases over time, in 2015, for the first time, the average mathematics scale score for 4th-grade students was lower than in the previous assessment year, 2013 (240 versus 242).
  • The 2015 average mathematics score for 4th-grade students (240) translates into a Basic level of proficiency,65 but patterns in mathematics achievement varied among racial and ethnic groups. For example, the average mathematics score for 4th-grade Asian or Pacific Islander students (257) was higher than the scores for their counterparts. The score for White, non-Hispanic students (248) at grade 4 was also higher than the scores for non-Hispanic students who were Black (224) and American Indian or Alaska Native (227), as well as Hispanic students (230).

Figure 23: Average mathematics scale scores for 8th-grade students by race and Hispanic origin, 1990, 2013, and 2015
Average mathematics scale scores for 8th-grade students by race and Hispanic origin, 1990, 2013, and 2015

‡ Reporting standards not met (too few cases for a reliable estimate).

NOTE: To assess progress in mathematics and reading, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) measures trends in the academic performance of U.S. students, including those in public and private schools. Testing accommodations (e.g., extended time, small group testing) for children with disabilities and English language learners were not permitted in 1990. Data on race and Hispanic origin are collected separately and combined for reporting according to 1997 Office of Management and Budget Standards for Data on Race and Ethnicity. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress.

  • At grade 8, the average mathematics scores for non-Hispanic White, Black, and Asian or Pacific Islander students were all higher in 2015 than in 1990; the same was true for Hispanic students.
  • In 2015 and in all previous assessment years, the average mathematics scores for White, non-Hispanic students at grade 8 have been higher than the scores for their Black, non-Hispanic and Hispanic peers. At grade 8, the 2015 achievement gaps between White, non-Hispanic and Black, non-Hispanic students and between White, non-Hispanic and Hispanic students were not statistically different from the gaps in 1990.
  • As was the case for 4th-grade students, in 2015, the average mathematics score for 8th-grade students was lower than the average score for the previous assessment year for the first time (282 in 2015 versus 285 in 2013). Nonetheless, the 8th-grade average mathematics score in 2015 was higher than in 1990 (263).
  • At grade 8, the average mathematics score in 2015 (282) aligned with a Basic level of proficiency.65 However, mathematics performance varied among students. The average mathematics score at grade 8 was higher for Asian or Pacific Islander, non-Hispanic students (306) than for their peers in the other racial and ethnic groups. In addition, the average 8th-grade mathematics score was higher for White, non-Hispanic (292) students than for non-Hispanic students who were Black (260) and American Indian or Alaska Native (267) as well as Hispanic students (270).

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65 For more information on NAEP mathematics proficiency levels, see https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/mathematics/achieveall.aspx.