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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2019

Mathematics and Reading Achievement

Factors such as the extent of children's knowledge and children's ability to think, learn, and communicate affect the likelihood of their becoming productive adults and active citizens. Mathematics and reading achievement test scores measure students' skills in these subjects and can be good indicators of overall achievement in school. To assess progress in mathematics and reading, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) measures trends in the academic performance of students in Grades 4, 8, and 12. The most recent NAEP mathematics and reading assessments were conducted for Grades 4 and 8 in 2017 and for Grade 12 in 2015.

Indicator ED2.A: Average mathematics scale scores for students in Grades 4 and 8, selected years 1990–2017
Indicator ED2.A: Average mathematics scale scores for students in Grades 4 and 8, selected years 1990–2017

NOTE: Results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mathematics assessment are reported as a composite scale that combines the results of separately estimated scales for each content area: number properties and operations; measurement; geometry; data analysis, statistics, and probability; and algebra. (Note that measurement and geometry make up one of the four content areas at Grade 12.) The scale ranges from 0 to 500 for Grades 4 and 8 and 0 to 300 for Grade 12. Prior to 1996, testing accommodations (e.g., extended time, small-group testing) for children with disabilities and limited-English-proficient students were not permitted. For 1996, scores are provided for both the assessment with and without accommodations to show comparability across the assessments.

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

Indicator ED2.B: Average mathematics scale scores for students in Grade 12 by race and Hispanic origin,102 2005, 2013, and 2015
Indicator ED2.B: Indicator ED2.B: Average mathematics scale scores for students in Grade 12 by race and Hispanic origin, 2005, 2013, and 2015

NOTE: NH = non-Hispanic origin; AIAN = American Indian or Alaska Native; and API = Asian or Pacific Islander.

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




  • At both Grade 4 and Grade 8, the average mathematics score in 2017 was higher than in 1990. However, the 2017 scores were not significantly different from the 2015 scores at either grade.
  • At Grade 12, the average mathematics score in 2015 was not significantly different from the score in 2005, the earliest year with comparable data.103 However, the 2015 score was lower than the score in 2013.
  • At both Grade 4 and Grade 8, similar to the overall pattern, average mathematics scores were higher in 2017 than in 1990 for students who were White, non-Hispanic; Black, non-Hispanic; Asian or Pacific Islander, non-Hispanic; and Hispanic. At Grade 12, average mathematics scores were higher in 2015 than in 2005 for students who were White, non-Hispanic; Black, non-Hispanic; Asian or Pacific Islander, non-Hispanic; and Hispanic. For American Indian or Alaska Native, non-Hispanic students in Grade 12, there was no measurable difference between the average mathematics scores in 2015 and 2005.104









Indicator ED2.C: Average reading scale scores for students in Grades 4, 8, and 12, selected years 1992–2017
Indicator ED2.C: Average reading scale scores for students in Grades 4, 8, and 12, selected years 1992–2017

NOTE: The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading assessment scale is a composite combining separately estimated scales for each type of reading (literacy and informational) specified by the reading framework. The scale ranges from 0 to 500. The 2000 assessment included data for only Grade 4, and the 2003, 2007, 2011, and 2017 assessments included data for only Grades 4 and 8. In the early years of the assessment, testing accommodations (e.g., extended time, small-group testing) for children with disabilities and limited-English-proficient students were not permitted. For 1998, scores are provided for both the assessment with and without accommodations to show comparability across the assessments.

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

  • At Grades 4 and 8 in 2017, Asian or Pacific Islander, non-Hispanic students had the highest average mathematics scores, and White, non-Hispanic students scored higher than their peers in the remaining racial and ethnic groups. Black, non-Hispanic students scored lower than students in the other racial and ethnic groups. At Grade 12, the same patterns can be observed for 2015.
  • At Grade 4, the average reading score in 2017 was higher than the score in 1992, but not measurably different from the score in 2015. At Grade 8, the average reading score in 2017 was higher than the scores in 1992 and in 2015. At Grade 12, the score in 2015 was lower than the score in 1992, but not measurably different from the score in 2013.
  • At Grades 4 and 8 in 2017, Asian, non-Hispanic students had, on average, the highest reading scores of all the racial and ethnic groups; White, non-Hispanic students also scored higher, on average, than their other peers. In addition, at these grade levels in 2017, Hispanic students had higher average reading scores than their Black, non-Hispanic peers. At Grade 12 in 2015, White, non-Hispanic and Asian, non-Hispanic students had higher reading scores than Black, non-Hispanic and Hispanic students; the average reading score was also higher for Hispanic students than for Black, non-Hispanic students.
  • At Grades 4 and 8, females scored, on average, lower than males in mathematics but higher than males in reading in 2017. The same pattern can be observed for Grade 12 in 2015.
  • In 2017, for students in Grade 8, higher parental education levels were associated with higher average mathematics and reading scores. The same pattern can be observed for students in Grade 12 in 2015.105

table icon ED2A/B HTML Table | ED2C HTML Table

102 The framework for the 12th-grade mathematics assessment was revised in 2005; as a result, scores from 2005 and later cannot be compared with those from previous years. Among other changes, the framework was revised by merging the measurement and geometry content areas into one and by adding questions on algebra, data analysis, and probability. For more details, see Grigg, W., Donahue, P., & Dion, G. (2007). The Nation's Report Card: 12th-grade reading and mathematics 2005 (NCES 2007-468). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics website. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/main2005/2007468.pdf

103 The 1997 U.S. Office of Management and Budget standards for data on race and ethnicity were used. Persons could select one or more of five racial groups: White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, or Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. Included in the total but not discussed separately in this indicator are respondents who selected Two or more races. Data from 2005 and later years are not directly comparable with data from earlier years. For assessment years 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2017, separate data are available for Asian, non-Hispanic students and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, non-Hispanic students. For continuity with earlier race and ethnicity standards, respondents who reported being Asian or Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander are presented jointly in the figure. Data on race and Hispanic origin are collected separately. Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.

104 Parents' education is the highest educational attainment of either parent. Data on parents' level of education are not reliable for 4th graders.

105 McFarland, J., Hussar, B., Wang, X., Zhang, J., Wang, K., Rathbun, A., … & Bullock Mann, F. (2018). The condition of education 2018 (NCES Publication No. 2018-144). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018144.pdf