Longitudinal data from ECLS-K illustrate gaps among groups within one cohort of elementary students: students of different racial/ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds began kindergarten with varying levels of achievement, and these gaps increased through grade 3 or 5, then stabilized through grade 8. The 2007 NAEP mathematics assessments indicate improvement in fourth and eighth graders' mathematics achievement, continuing a trend observed since 1990. Although some achievement gaps between students of different racial/ethnic backgrounds or family income decreased with this assessment, significant gaps remained.
Results of international assessments of student achievement in math and science were more mixed. U.S. fourth and eighth grade students improved in mathematics on TIMSS: 2007, both in their average score and in their standing relative to other nations' students, although their relative standing rose only slightly. In science, U.S. students' performance on TIMSS did not change, but their standing relative to their counterparts in other nations did: U.S. fourth graders lost ground to other nations' fourth graders, while U.S. eighth graders gained slightly. Among 15-year-olds, U.S. students' standing declined relative to that of other nations' students on the most recent PISA assessments in both mathematics and science.
Efforts to improve student achievement include ensuring that all students have access to highly qualified teachers, although consensus definitions of "highly qualified" in individual subjects at various grade levels have yet to emerge. From the student perspective, while 40% of fifth grade students in 2004 were taught mathematics and science by teachers with either a degree or certificate in their teaching field (i.e., in-field teachers), most students at this level (about 54%) had teachers with general education preparation. When these students reached eighth grade in 2007, more than 80% of them were taught mathematics and science by in-field teachers, and the percentage taught by mathematics and science teachers with general education preparation fell to 9%–10%. Gaps in access to teachers with these qualifications were observed, however: black and Hispanic students, students from low-income families, and students whose prior achievement was low were less likely than their counterparts to have teachers with the highest qualifications or greatest experience.
Teachers' professional development activities can strengthen subject matter knowledge and teaching abilities acquired through their formal education. Many fifth graders' teachers of mathematics and science, however, had not participated in professional development in mathematics or science. Those who had participated reported that their activities were of relatively short duration, and less than half of participants reported their activities as very useful.
Although teachers' salaries have not kept pace with those of employees in occupations with similar training requirements and responsibilities, most teachers of fifth grade students had favorable perceptions of their working conditions. Again, however, teachers of some groups of students were less likely than others to have such positive perceptions, and the differences fell along student racial/ethnic and socioeconomic lines.
By 2005, access to computers and the Internet was virtually universal and did not vary with such student characteristics. Most states include technology in their curriculum standards. In addition, increasing numbers of states are providing virtual schools and other opportunities for distance education via technology, largely at the secondary level.
In 2006, the on-time (4-year) high school graduation rate was 73%, with significant gaps observed by race/ethnicity. Looking at secondary school completion in international terms, the United States ranked 17th among 23 OECD countries with available data. New federal regulations, effective in 2011, will improve accuracy and comparability of data concerning on-time graduation among the 50 states.
Rates of immediate entry into postsecondary education after high school completion have increased substantially since 1975. Longitudinal data indicate that students who took more advanced mathematics and science courses in high school were more likely than others to undertake postsecondary education within 2 years of completing high school. Once enrolled, such students were also less likely to have reported taking remedial courses at the postsecondary level.