U.S. fourth and eighth graders have made substantial gains in mathematics since 1990. Although eighth grade scores show a continuous upward trend, fourth grade scores leveled off during recent years. In science, 2011 eighth graders performed slightly better than their counterparts tested in 2009.
The average mathematics score at grade 4 rose by 27 points from 1990 to 2007 and then remained essentially flat from 2007 to 2011.
The average mathematics score at grade 8 increased steadily from 1990 to 2011 with a total gain of 21 points over the period.
The average science score at grade 8 improved slightly, increasing from 150 in 2009 to 152 in 2011. (Earlier science assessment scores were not comparable with recent ones because of framework changes).
Despite improvement, relatively few students reached their grade-specific proficiency levels in mathematics and science on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress.
In mathematics, the percentage of students reaching the proficient level remained well below half in 2011: 40% of fourth graders and 35% of eighth graders performed at or above this level.
In science, 32% of eighth graders performed at or above the proficient level for their grade in 2011.
Performance disparities in mathematics and science were evident among different demographic groups at grades K, 4, and 8. Some score gaps narrowed over time, however.
At grades K, 4, and 8, students from low-income families or homes where the primary language used was not English had lower mathematics and science scores than their peers from more advantaged backgrounds.
Black, Hispanic, and American Indian or Alaska Native students performed substantially lower than their white and Asian or Pacific Islander counterparts.
Sex differences in achievement were generally small and favored boys in most cases. Among black students, however, girls performed better.
Some gaps in mathematics narrowed over time at grade 4. Between 1990 and 2011, the score gaps decreased between white and black students (from 32 to 25 points) and between low- and high-performing students (i.e., at the 10th and 90th percentiles) (from 82 to 73 points).
Some gaps in science also narrowed somewhat during the relatively short period of time from 2009 to 2011. The white-black gap decreased from 36 to 34 points. The white-Hispanic gap fell from 30 to 26 points. The gap between low- and high-performing students dropped from 89 to 87 points.
Although U.S. fourth and eighth graders outperformed students in many other countries/jurisdictions on the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) tests, they were not among the very top-achieving groups in the world.
The U.S. average score on the 2011 TIMSS mathematics assessment was substantially lower than those of seven countries/jurisdictions at grade 4 and those of six countries/jurisdictions at grade 8. The top performers—Singapore, Republic of Korea, and two cities (Hong Kong and Taipei)—each scored at least 50 points higher than the United States at grade 4 (591–606 versus 541) and at least 77 points higher than the United States at grade 8 (586–613 versus 509).
Between 1995 and 2011, U.S. fourth and eighth graders improved both their scores and international ranking in mathematics. In science, U.S. eighth graders’ performance improved, but their relative international ranking was unchanged. U.S. fourth graders’ science performance did not change, and their relative international position slipped.
Algebra 1 and biology 1 were the most common subjects taken by ninth graders in 2009.
In mathematics, 52% of ninth graders reported enrollment in algebra 1. In addition, 29% reported enrollment in courses above algebra 1, such as geometry.
In science, 39% of ninth graders reported enrollment in biology 1, with 31% in earth/environmental/physical science courses and 7% in courses above biology 1.
Nearly twice as many ninth graders reported no science enrollment (18%) as reported no mathematics enrollment (10%).
Ninth grade coursetaking in mathematics and science in 2009 varied by parental education and socioeconomic status (SES).
Students who had at least one parent with a master’s degree or higher were more than twice as likely to report enrollment in a mathematics course above algebra 1 (51%) as were their peers whose parents had less than a 4-year college degree (22%).
More than one-fourth of students in the lowest SES category reported no science enrollment (27%), compared with 11% of students in the highest SES category.
About 17% of students in the lowest SES category reported no mathematics enrollment, compared with 6% of those in the highest SES category.
The number of students taking at least one Advanced Placement (AP) exam in mathematics or science has doubled in the past decade from 250,000 students in the class of 2002 to 500,000 students in the class of 2012.
Calculus AB and biology were the most popular AP exams in mathematics and science, with 212,000 students in the graduating class of 2012 taking calculus AB and 153,000 students taking biology.
Although more students in the class of 2012 were taking AP exams, the AP program in mathematics and science involved a relatively small proportion of all high school students. Just 17% of all students took an AP mathematics or science exam, with 9% passing.
Although increasing numbers of students are taking AP exams, passing rates (a score of 3 or higher out of 5) have declined or remained steady in most mathematics and science subjects.
The overall passing rate for any AP mathematics or science exam dropped from 62% in 2002 to 54% in 2012.
The two most popular exams, calculus AB and biology, showed the largest decreases, with average passing rates dropping by 9 percentage points for calculus AB and 13 percentage points for biology since 2002.
The proportion of male and female students in the class of 2012 taking mathematics and science exams varied by subject. Black and Hispanic students were underrepresented among AP exam takers.
Male students were more likely than female students to take advanced AP courses, including calculus BC (59% versus 41%), physics B (65% versus 35%), and both physics C courses (about 75% versus 25%).
Female students were more likely than male students to take AP exams in biology (59% versus 41%) and environmental science (55% versus 45%). Male students were four times more likely than female students to take the computer science A exam (81% versus 19%).
Black students made up about 15% of the 2012 graduating class, but they represented less than 8% of students taking any AP mathematics or science exam.
Hispanic students made up about 18% of the class of 2012, but their representation among AP exam takers ranged from a high of 15% for environmental science to a low of 8% for calculus BC and 7% for physics C: electricity/magnetism.
Novice science teachers—those with 2 or fewer years of experience—are more prevalent at schools with the highest proportions of low-income and non-Asian minority students.
In 2012, 23% of science classes at schools with the highest concentrations of students eligible for free/reduced-price lunch (i.e., 75%–100% of students) were taught by novice teachers, compared with 10% of science classes at schools with the lowest concentrations of free/reduced-price lunch-eligible students (i.e., 0%–25% of students).
Similarly, 21% of science classes at schools with the highest concentrations of non-Asian minority students were taught by novice teachers, compared with 14% of classes at schools with the lowest concentrations of non-Asian minority students.
Students in high-poverty schools were more likely to have novice teachers in science than in mathematics: 23% of science classes compared with 14% of mathematics classes were taught by teachers with 2 or fewer years of experience.
A majority of high school mathematics and science teachers hold degrees in their teaching field or in science or mathematics education.
In 2012, 73% of high school mathematics teachers had an undergraduate or graduate degree in mathematics or mathematics education, and 82% of high school science teachers had an undergraduate or graduate degree in science (any subject), engineering, or science education.
A small percentage (4%–5%) of elementary school teachers of mathematics or science held a degree in mathematics or science.
Mathematics and science classes with the highest concentrations of non-Asian minority students or the lowest-achieving students were less likely to be taught by teachers with a degree in their teaching field.
Elementary teachers are much more confident in their ability to teach mathematics than in their ability to teach science.
In 2012, 77% of elementary teachers reported feeling very well prepared to teach mathematics, compared with 39% reporting they felt very well prepared to teach science.
About half of mathematics and science teachers at most levels felt very well prepared to encourage the participation of female students in mathematics and science. Elementary teachers of science were an exception––only 30% felt well prepared to encourage female students to participate in science.
A majority of middle and high school mathematics and science teachers participated in at least one professional development activity that focused on mathematics or science in the 3 years prior to 2012.
The participation rate for middle and high school mathematics and science teachers ranged from 82% to 89%.
Among elementary school teachers, 87% participated in at least one math professional development activity, and 59% participated in at least one science professional development activity in the 3 years prior to 2012.
In 2012, 32% of high school mathematics teachers and 36% of high school science teachers reported that they had spent more than 35 hours in subject-specific professional development activities during the prior 3 years. Far fewer elementary school teachers of mathematics (11%) or science (4%) reported participating in subject-specific professional development activities for more than 35 hours.
Overall, schools are more supportive of mathematics instruction than science instruction.
In 2012, 82% of mathematics program representatives reported that the importance their school placed on mathematics teaching promoted effective instruction in mathematics, whereas 60% of science program representatives reported that this was the case.
About 70% of mathematics program representatives, compared with about 50% of science program representatives, reported that school management of instructional resources promoted effective instruction in mathematics or science.
Various problems were viewed as serious barriers to effective instruction. For mathematics instruction at the high school level, the most frequently cited problem was low student interest in mathematics. At the elementary level, low student reading abilities was the most frequently cited barrier to effective mathematics instruction.
For science instruction, frequently cited problems included inadequate funds for purchasing equipment and lack of science facilities. At the elementary level, more than one-quarter of program representatives reported insufficient time to teach science as a serious problem for science instruction.
Secondary mathematics and science teachers had higher 3-year attrition rates than did their colleagues who taught at the elementary level or taught other fields at the secondary level.
Among teachers who began teaching in 2007–08, one-quarter of secondary mathematics and science teachers had left teaching by 2009–10, compared with 11% of elementary teachers and 10% of secondary teachers of other fields.
Access to the Internet in U.S. schools is nearly universal.
In 2008, 98% of U.S. public school classrooms had Internet access, and the ratio of students to instructional computers was 3:1, compared with a ratio of 7:1 in 2000.
An increasing number of students have access to and are enrolling in distance education, particularly online learning.
Online learning programs range from programs that are fully online with all instruction occurring via the Internet to hybrid or “blended learning” programs that combine face-to-face teacher instruction with online components.
More than 1 million elementary and secondary students were enrolled in online or blended learning courses in 2007–08, a 47% increase from 2005–06.
A recent nationally representative survey of public school districts found that providing courses not otherwise available at their schools and providing students with opportunities to recover course credits from classes missed or failed were the top reasons for offering online learning options.
Rigorous research examining the impact of instructional technology and online learning on student achievement remains limited.
Three recent rigorous meta-analyses compared the mathematics achievement of students taught in classes using technology-assisted mathematics programs with that of students in control classes using standard methods. All three studies found small positive effects when technology was incorporated into classroom mathematics instruction.
Rates of students graduating within 4 years of entering ninth grade (“on-time” graduation) have increased in recent years, but differences among racial and ethnic groups persist.
In 2010, 78% of public school students completed high school on time, up from 73% in 2006. All racial and ethnic groups made progress during this period, with improvement ranging from 3 percentage points for white students to 10 percentage points for Hispanic students.
In 2010, Asian or Pacific Islander and white students graduated on time at a higher rate (94% and 83%, respectively) than did black, Hispanic, and American Indian or Alaska Native students (66%, 71%, and 69%, respectively).
The U.S. high school graduation rate lags behind those of many developed nations.
The United States ranked 22nd out of 26 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries for which graduation rate data were available in 2010, with an average graduation rate of 77% among the population of 18-year-olds, compared with the OECD average of 84%.
The relative standing of U.S. high school graduation rates did not improve between 2006 and 2010, ranking 16th in both 2006 and 2008 and 17th in 2010 among the 21 OECD countries with available data.
The majority of U.S. high school graduates enroll in a postsecondary institution immediately after high school completion, but a sizeable percentage of entering students need remedial courses to prepare themselves for college-level work.
Close to 70% of 2011 high school graduates had enrolled in a postsecondary institution by the October following high school completion, an increase of 17 percentage points since 1975.
Relatively more female graduates than male graduates enrolled immediately in postsecondary education in 2011 (72% versus 65%).
Students from high-income families enrolled at a higher rate (82%) than did students from middle-income (66%) or low-income families (53%).
Internationally, the percentage of U.S. young adults enrolling in university-level education for the first time was 74% in 2010, above the OECD average of 62%. Among 30 OECD countries for which data were available, the United States ranked 9th.
Half of beginning postsecondary students took some type of remedial course after entering college in 2003–04. The math remediation rate was 57% for those entering 2-year institutions and 29% for those entering 4-year institutions.