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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2017

Mathematics and Reading Achievement

The extent of children's knowledge, as well as their 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 are good indicators of overall achievement in school. Results from international assessments help place the achievement of U.S. students within a global context. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015 results showed that reading scores for U.S. 15-year-olds were not statistically significantly different from any of the previous assessment years with which comparisons can be made, while mathematics scores declined.109 The overall reading achievement of U.S. students was not statistically significantly different from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average in 2015, and the mathematics performance was below the 2015 OECD average. It is also important to examine performance differences, or achievement gaps, within the United States, such as between students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Indicator ED2.A: Average mathematics scale scores for students in Grades 4 and 8, selected years 1990–2015
Indicator ED2.A: Average mathematics scale scores for students in Grades 4 and 8, selected years 1990–2015

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 of the content areas: (1) number of properties and operations; (2) measurement; (3) geometry; (4) data analysis, statistics, and probability; and (5) 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. In 1996, scores are provided for both the assessment with and the assessment 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,110 2005, 2013, and 2015
Indicator ED2.B: Average mathematics scale scores for students in Grade 12 by race and Hispanic origin, 2005, 2013, and 2015

NOTE: NH is non-Hispanic; AIAN is American Indian or Alaska Native; and A/PI is Asian or Pacific Islander.

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


  • At both Grades 4 and 8, the average mathematics score in 2015 was higher than in 1990. However, the 2015 scores were lower than the 2013 scores at both grades.
  • At Grade 12, the average mathematics score in 2015 was not significantly different from the scores in 2005 or 2013.110
  • In all grades, average mathematics scores were higher in 2015 than in 2005 for White, non-Hispanic; Asian or Pacific Islander, non-Hispanic; and Hispanic students. Scores were higher in 2015 than in 2005 for Black, non-Hispanic students in Grades 4 and 8, and American Indian or Alaska Native, non-Hispanic students in Grade 8.111

Indicator ED2.C: Average reading scale scores for students in Grades 4, 8, and 12, selected years 1992–2015
Indicator ED2.C: Average reading scale scores for students in Grades 4, 8, and 12, selected years 1992–2015

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 only included data for Grade 4, and the 2003, 2007, and 2011 assessments only included data for 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. In 1998, scores are provided for both the assessment with and the assessment 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 each grade in 2015, 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, with the exception of American Indian and Alaska Native, non-Hispanic students for whom scores were not statistically different.
  • At Grade 4, the average reading score in 2015 was higher than the score in 1992, but not measurably different from the score in 2013. At Grade 8, the average reading score in 2015 was higher than the score in 1992 but lower than the score in 2013. At Grade 12, the score in 2015 was lower than the score in 1992 and not measurably different from the score in 2013.
  • In 2015, Asian, non-Hispanic students had the highest reading scores, on average, of all the racial and ethnic groups at Grades 4 and 8; White, non-Hispanic students also scored higher, on average, than their other peers. At Grades 8 and 12, Black, non-Hispanic students had lower reading scores than students from the other racial and ethnic groups.
  • At Grades 4 and 12, females scored lower, on average, than males in mathematics but higher than males in reading in 2015. At Grade 8, females had higher average reading scores than males, while the mathematics scores of females were not statistically significantly different from those of males.
  • In 2015 for students in Grades 8 and 12, higher parental education levels were associated with higher average mathematics and reading scores.112

table icon ED2A/B HTML Table | ED2C HTML Table

109 2006, 2009, and 2012 for science assessment; 2000, 2003, 2009, and 2012 for reading assessment. For more details, see Kastberg, D., Chan, J. Y., & Murray, G. (2016). Performance of U.S. 15-year-old students in science, reading, and mathematics literacy in an international context: first look at PISA 2015 (NCES 2017-048). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from: https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2017048

110 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/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2007468

111 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 shown separately 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, and 2015 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.

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