Student Learning in Mathematics and Science
Initial disparities in mathematics skills found in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1999 (ECLS–K), tended to grow as these students progressed
through grade 8.
- Kindergarten test scores, along with many demographic characteristics, were strong predictors of students' skills in 2007, after 9 years of schooling. Gaps generally grew
through about grade 3 and thereafter remained stable, with some narrowing marginally.
- Science understanding was tested in grades 3, 5, and 8; gaps between more and less advantaged groups stayed about the same over these grades.
Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mathematics test increased among younger students through 2008, continuing a steadily rising pattern
- From 1990 to 2007, fourth graders gained 27 points and eighth graders gained 19 points (on a scale of 0–500 for both grades).
- These increases in performance were shared by boys and girls; white, black, and Hispanic students; and students from lower- and higher-income families.
- The score gaps in 1990 among racial/ethnic groups remained in 2007, but one gap shrank: black fourth graders gained enough points to narrow the gap with whites. Between
2000 and 2007, score differences decreased for six groups: between black and white students in both grades, Hispanic and white students in both grades, and low-income
and higher-income students in both grades.
- The two younger age groups (9- and 13-year-olds) participating in NAEP Long-Term Trend tests in 2008 had higher average mathematics scores than their 1973 peers
had, but performance among 17-year-olds was flat.
- Relatively large score increases among 9-year-olds occurred during the 1980s and early 2000s, while 13-year-olds had steadier (but less steep) gains over the 35 years. In each age group, black students narrowed the gaps with whites first observed in 1973.
On one recent international assessment, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS:2007), the scores of U.S. fourth and eighth graders
were higher than in 1995 in mathematics but not in science.
- TIMSS exams closely follow the curriculums commonly taught in participating countries. U.S. students' 2007 average mathematics score was higher than their 1995 average
score. The U.S. standing among selected comparison countries also rose slightly, placing the United States near the median of selected nations in both grades.
- Scores at the 90th percentile provide information about high-achieving students (those who scored higher than 90% of all test takers). In both fourth and eighth grades,
the U.S. 90th percentile scores in mathematics were also near the median of selected countries on this measure.
- Science results were mixed: the average 2007 science scores of U.S. fourth and eighth graders had not changed measurably from the 1995 average scores. However, the
U.S. position among selected countries declined in fourth grade (two more nations outscored the United States and four fewer had lower scores in 2007) and increased slightly
in eighth grade (where two fewer scored above and two more scored below the United States).
On another international test, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA:2006), U.S. 15-year-olds scored below most selected nations in 2006, and the
U.S. standing among selected nations dropped below its 2000 rank in both mathematics and science. The U.S. PISA results in both subjects contrasted sharply with the
U.S. TIMSS results, particularly in mathematics.
- PISA aims to test students' ability to apply what they have learned (e.g., explain answers in mathematical or scientific terms, use logical reasoning, synthesize information).
Among 19 nations with data available for both years, the United States scored below 7 nations in mathematics in 2000 and below 15 nations in 2006.
- In 2006, the average mathematics score of U.S. students was lower than scores in 18 comparison nations (out of 24), and higher than those in 4 other countries—3 of them developing economies. The U.S. 90th percentile score in mathematics was similarly low relative to scores in other nations.
- Between 2000 and 2006, the number of countries scoring higher than the United States on the PISA science assessment rose from 6 to 12.
Teachers of Mathematics and Science
Most fifth and eighth grade students in public schools were taught mathematics and science by teachers with basic credentials such as a bachelor's degree and teaching certificate (but not necessarily in mathematics and science). Most students were also taught by teachers with more than 3 years of teaching experience.
- Virtually all fifth and eighth grade students in public schools were taught mathematics and science by teachers who had attained at least a bachelor's degree, and
about half of them were taught these two subjects by teachers with a master's or higher degree. More than Highlights 80% of students had teachers with a regular or advanced
- Forty percent 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).
In contrast, 54% of fifth graders had teachers of mathematics and science with general education preparation. When these students reached eighth grade in 2007,
80% of them were taught mathematics and science by in-field teachers, and the percentage of students taught mathematics and science by teachers with general education
preparation fell to 9%–10%.
- Eighty-two percent or more of fifth and eighth grade students in public schools had teachers with more than 3 years of teaching experience.
Access to better-qualified teachers of mathematics and science was not equally distributed among students.
- In 2004, black and Hispanic fifth grade students were less likely than white students to be taught mathematics by teachers with a master's or advanced degree (39% and
42% vs. 51%, respectively), a regular or advanced teaching certificate (86% and 85% vs. 92%), and more than 3 years of experience teaching grade 5 (48% and 58%
- Also among fifth graders, a third of those in the lowest achievement quartile in grade 3 were taught mathematics by a teacher with a degree or certificate in math. In contrast,
42% of fifth graders in the top achievement quartile in grade 3 had such teachers.
- In 2007, eighth grade students whose mothers had not earned a high school diploma were less likely than those whose mothers had a bachelor's or higher degree
to be taught science by teachers who had a master's or advanced degree (46% vs. 57%), a regular or advanced teaching certificate (79% vs. 87%), a degree or certificate
in science (84% vs. 93%), and more than 3 years of experience teaching science (69% vs. 83%).
- Eighth grade students from families with low incomes were less likely than those from higher-income families to be taught science by teachers with a regular or advanced
teaching certificate (79% vs. 86%), a degree or certificate in science (84% vs. 89%), and more than 3 years of experience in teaching science (69% vs. 79%).
- About 92% of eighth graders with high achievement in fifth grade were taught mathematics by a teacher with a degree or certificate in mathematics, compared with 77%
of those with low fifth grade achievement.
Teacher participation in professional development in mathematics and science at the elementary level was not as common as that at the middle and high school levels.
- While teacher participation in professional development during a school year was almost universal at public middle and high schools, in 2004, 47% of public school
fifth grade students were taught science by teachers who reported no staff development in science, and 27% of students were taught mathematics by teachers who reported
no staff development in mathematics.
- On average, teacher participants spent about 14 hours on staff development in mathematics and science during the entire school year.
- Roughly 40% of fifth grade students had teacher participants rating this activity as very useful.
Over the past decade, teachers' pay increased little after adjusting for inflation. Teacher salaries continue to lag behind salaries in comparable professions, and the gaps have widened in recent years.
- In 2006–07, the average salary for all K–12 teachers was about $51,000. After adjusting for inflation, teacher salaries grew by 2.8% between 1996-97 and 2006-07.
- In 2006, full-time public school teachers earned 86% as much in weekly wages as did those in six occupations requiring comparable education and job skills: accountants,
reporters, registered nurses, computer programmers, members of the clergy, and personnel officers. Between 1996 and 2006, the gap in weekly wages between full-time teachers and those in these comparable occupations widened from $7 to $153 (in constant dollars).
Most public school mathematics and science teachers had favorable perceptions of their working conditions. However, these positive perceptions were less widely
held among teachers of disadvantaged and low-achieving students.
- A majority of public school teachers who taught mathematics and science to fifth and eighth grade students
expressed positive views of their principal's leadership, their school's mission and spirit, the efforts of teachers to
learn new ideas, the relationships among colleagues, and parental support. Relatively few of them reported student learning and behavioral problems.
- These positive perceptions, however, were less widely held among teachers of black and Hispanic students, low-achieving students, and students from low-income and less-educated families.
Instructional Technology in Education
Access to the Internet in U.S. schools is nearly universal.
- In 2005, 94% of classrooms in U.S. public schools had computers with Internet access, and the ratio of students to instructional computers was 4:1.
Most states have implemented standards for students' understanding of computer technology and teachers' use of technology for instruction.
- All 50 states currently include computer technology in their curriculum standards as a subject in which students
should receive instruction, and 46 include technology in their teaching standards.
An increasing number of students have access to and are enrolling in distance education opportunities, particularly
- Twenty-five states sponsored virtual schools as of 2007, and 57% of secondary schools nationwide provided some
online learning opportunities to their students in 2005. Most state-led programs are at the high school level.
- During the 2004–05 school year, there were 506,950 student enrollments in online courses nationwide, up
from 317,070 students in 2002–03, but little is known about course taking or achievement in science and math in particular.
Transition to Higher Education
Most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries outperform the United States in terms of secondary school completion.
- In 2006, the United States ranked 17th among 23 OECD countries with data available on the rate of student secondary school completion.
On-time high school graduation rates have remained steady in the United States, and large gaps between racial/ethnic groups persist.
- The nationwide on-time graduation rate was 73% in 2006, and the on-time graduation rate for white students was approximately 20 percentage points higher than the
rate for black and Hispanic students.
Student test taking in Advanced Placement (AP) mathematics and science subjects has increased rapidly since 1990.
- The number of test takers increased in virtually all AP mathematics and science subjects in 2008. In some subjects,
the number of test takers increased fivefold or more, although participants remain a small proportion of the high school population. Fifteen percent of the class of 2008 earned a score of 3 or higher on at least one AP test during high school.
- The number of students passing an AP exam is also increasing. Almost 250,000 students passed a mathematics AP exam in 2008, compared with just over 50,000 in
1990, and more than 200,000 passed a science AP exam in 2008, compared with fewer than 50,000 in 1990.
Among high school graduates in 2004, earning credits for advanced science and mathematics courses was linked to higher rates of postsecondary enrollment at 4-year colleges
and lower rates of postsecondary remediation, confirming the results of earlier studies.
- Among students with two or more advanced mathematics or science credits, 88% and 90%, respectively, enrolled in a 4-year college within 2 years of high school graduation,
compared with only 22% and 12% of students with no advanced credits.
- More than 40% of students whose highest mathematics course was less advanced than algebra II reported taking remedial mathematics at the postsecondary level, compared
with 17% of students who had taken calculus.