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Average mathematics scale scores[1] for students in grades four and eight improved almost every year between 2000 and 2013, but decreased between 2013 and 2015. Twelfth-graders’ scores improved slightly between 2005 and 2009, but remained the same for 2013 as they were in 2009.

Importance

it matters 4.136Competence in mathematics is essential for functioning in everyday life, as well as for success in our increasingly technology-based workplace. Students who take higher-level mathematics and science courses which require strong fundamental skills in mathematics are more likely to attend and to complete college.[2][3] One study of high school females found that one difference between those who later dropped out of high school and those who graduated was lower math scores among the former group.[4]

The importance of mathematics extends beyond the academic domain. Young people who transition to adulthood with limited mathematics skills are likely to find it difficult to function in society. Basic arithmetic skills are required for everyday computations, and sometimes for job applications.[5] Additionally, competence in mathematics skills is related to higher levels of employability.[6][7][8][9]  Since 1976, the influence of high school students’ mathematics skills on later earnings has grown steadily. [10],[11]

Trends

09_fig1After years of steady gains, mathematics scale scores decreased in 2015 for both fourth- and eighth-graders. Between 1990 and 2013, average mathematics scale scores rose from 213 to 242 for fourth-graders, and from 263 to 285 for eighth-graders. In 2015, scores had fallen to 240 among fourth-graders, and 282 among eighth-graders. For fourth-graders, there were significant increases in every year up to 2013, except between 1996 and 2000, and between 2007 and 2009, when scores stayed level. Average scores for eighth-graders increased between each test year until 2013. (Figure 1)

Math proficiency scores for twelfth-graders rose between 1990 and 2000, from 294 to 300.[12] In 2005, a new mathematics framework was developed for twelfth-grade students, using a 0-to-300 scale, instead of the 0-to-500 scale used in previous years. Despite this scoring change, a government study found that there was a probable increase in math ability for twelfth-grade students from 2000 to 2005.[13]  The average score for all twelfth-grade students increased between 2005 and 2009, from 150 to 153, but remained steady at 153 in 2013. (Figure 1)

Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin[14]

09_fig2Overall, scores have been rising for all race and ethnicity groups, although white students continue to outscore their black, Hispanic, and American Indian peers. Gaps by race/Hispanic origin are greater in eighth grade than in fourth or twelfth grades.  (Appendix 1, Appendix 2, and Appendix 3)

In the most recent year available (2013 for twelfth-graders, 2015 for younger students), Asian students had the highest math scores at all grade levels, followed by white students. Black students had the lowest math scores at all grade levels. Hispanic and American Indian students had scores between white and black students at all grade levels, and, among fourth-graders, Hispanic students had higher average scores than American Indian students. For example, among eighth-grade students, Asian students had an average scale score of 306, compared with 292 for white students, 270 and 267 for Hispanic and American Indian students, respectively, and 260 for black students. (Figure 2 and Appendix 3)

In 2015, fourth-grade scores fell significantly only among white students (two points), with no significant change for students of other races or Hispanic origin. Eighth-grade scores fell the most among black students (three points), followed by white and Hispanic students (two points, each). The eighth-grade scores for American Indian and Asian students remained steady between 2013 and 2015. (Appendix 1, Appendix 2, and Appendix 3)

Differences by Parental Education

09_fig3Children of parents with high levels of education have higher math scores than other children. In 2015, eighth-graders whose parents had graduated college had an average score 29 points higher than students whose parents had not finished high school, and 26 points higher than students whose parents had a high school degree only. (Figure 3)

In 2013, Twelfth-grade students whose parents graduated college had an average scale score of 164, compared with 139 for students of parents with a high school degree, and 137 for students of parents with less than a high school degree. (Appendix 3)

Differences by Gender

Male students in fourth grade scored slightly higher than female students (241 versus 239, respectively) in 2015. Similarly, in 2013, male students in twelfth grade scored slightly higher than female students (155 and 152, respectively). (Appendix 1 and Appendix 3)  There was no gender difference at eighth grade in 2013 or 2015.  (Appendix 2)

State and Local Estimates

2015 mathematics estimates for 4th-and 8th-graders for all states are available from the National Center for Education Statistics.

2015 estimates for 4th-and 8th-graders in 22 large urban districts participating in NAEP are also available.

There are also several estimates of math proficiency available from the KIDS COUNT Data Center.

International Estimates

International estimates for fourth- and eighth-grade mathematics proficiency are available from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2011 report.

Twelfth-grade assessments from TIMSS (1995) are also available.

International comparisons of mathematics literacy from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) for 15 year olds in 2009 are available in the Performance of U.S. 15-Year-Old Students in Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy in an International Context report.

National Goals

The No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law in January 2002, requires states to set performance standards for multiple subjects, including mathematics, and requires that each state measure students’ progress in mathematics and reading every year from grades 3 to 8, and at least once in grades 10 to 12.  Each state is expected to make adequate yearly progress toward meeting standards, and all children are expected to meet or exceed minimum proficiency standards, as defined by the state, within twelve years (by 2014).

More information is available here.

Related Indicators

Definition

Mathematics proficiency is defined as performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) main assessment and is measured by average scale scores.  Scale scores range from 0 to 500, with a standard deviation of 100.  In 2005, a new mathematics framework was adopted for twelfth-graders, with scale scores ranging from 0 to 300.

Each grade level and each subject area has criteria for achievement-level, categorized as basic, proficient, or advanced. This represents what students should know.

For more information on the abilities expected for each level, see the Nation’s Report Card.

Fourth Grade

  • Basic (214-248)
  • Proficient (249-281)
  • Advanced (282-500)

Eighth Grade

  • Basic (262-298)
  • Proficient (299-332)
  • Advanced (333-500)

Twelfth Grade

  • Basic (141-175)
  • Proficient (176-215)
  • Advanced (216-300)

Data Sources

.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. National Assessment of Educational Progress Reading and Mathematics Assessments (NAEP), 2015, 2013, 2011, 2009, 2007, 2005, 2003, 2000, 1996, 1992, and 1990 Mathematics Assessments. Accessed through the NAEP Data Explorer at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/naepdata/

Raw Data Source

National Assessment of Educational Progress Mathematics Assessments

http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/mathematics/

 

Appendix 1 – Mathematics Scores3 Among U.S. Students in Grade 4: Selected Years, 1990-2015

1990 1992 1996 1996 2000 2003 2005 2007 2009 2011 2013 2015
No Accommodations Permitted1 Accommodations Permitted1
Total 213 220 224 224 226 235 238 240 240 241 242 240
Gender
Male 214 221 226 224 227 236 239 241 241 241 242 241
Female 213 219 222 223 224 233 237 239 239 240 241 239
Race/Hispanic Origin2
White 220 227 232 231 234 243 246 248 248 249 250 248
Black 188 193 199 198 203 216 220 222 222 224 224 224
Hispanic 200 202 205 207 208 222 226 227 227 229 231 230
Asian/Pacific Islander * 231 226 229 * 246 251 253 255 256 258 257
American Indian * * * * * 223 226 228 225 225 227 227
Free/Reduced-Price School Lunch Program Eligibility
Eligible 207 207 208 222 225 227 227 229 230 229
Not eligible 231 232 235 244 248 249 250 252 254 253
Information not available 233 231 237 241 244 246 246 249 249 248
Type of School
Public 212 219 222 222 224 234 237 239 239 240 241 240
Nonpublic 224 228 237 235 238 244 246 246 247 246
Type of Location
City 235 235 236 237 237
Suburb 244 243 244 245 243
Town 238 238 237 241 238
Rural 240 241 243 243 241
Percentile
10th 171 177 182 182 184 197 200 202 202 203 203 202
25th 193 199 204 203 205 216 220 222 221 222 222 221
50th 214 221 226 225 227 236 239 242 241 242 243 242
75th 235 242 246 245 248 255 258 260 260 261 262 261
90th 253 259 262 262 265 270 273 275 275 276 278 277
“-” Indicates data not available*Sample size was insufficient to permit reliable estimates.

1In 1996, NAEP started allowing testing accommodations for students with disabilities and for limited English proficient students. Accommodations may include extra time, one-on-one administration, use of magnifying equipment, translation of assessments, or the use of bilingual dictionaries and are determined by state and district policies.

2Note that none of the race groups include Hispanics of those races.

3Scale scores range from 0 to 500, with a standard deviation of 100.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. National Assessment of Educational Progress Mathematics Assessments (NAEP), 2015, 2013, 2011, 2009, 2007, 2005, 2003, 2000, 1996, 1992, and 1990 Mathematics Assessments. Accessed through the NAEP Data Explorer, at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/naepdata/

 

Appendix 2 – Mathematics Scores3 Among U.S. Students in Grade 8: Selected Years, 1990-2015

1990 1992 1996 1996 2000 2003 2005 2007 2009 2011 2013 2015
No Accommodations Permitted1 Accommodations Permitted1
Total 263 268 272 270 273 278 279 281 283 284 285 282
Gender
Male 263 268 272 271 274 278 280 282 284 284 285 282
Female 262 269 272 269 272 277 278 280 282 283 284 282
Race/Hispanic Origin2
White 270 277 281 281 284 288 289 291 293 293 294 292
Black 237 237 242 240 244 252 255 260 261 262 263 260
Hispanic 246 249 251 251 253 259 262 265 266 270 272 270
Asian/Pacific Islander * 290 * * 288 291 295 297 301 303 306 306
American Indian * * * * * 263 264 264 266 265 269 267
Free/Reduced-Price School Lunch Program Eligibility
Eligible 252 250 253 259 262 265 266 269 270 268
Not eligible 280 277 283 287 288 291 294 296 297 296
Information not available 280 285 276 285 289 291 295 296 297 294
Parent’s Education
Did not finish high school 242 249 254 250 253 257 259 263 265 265 267 265
Graduated high school 255 257 261 260 261 267 267 270 270 271 270 268
Some education after high school 267 271 279 277 277 280 280 283 284 285 285 282
Graduated college 274 281 282 281 286 288 290 292 295 295 296 294
Unknown 241 252 254 252 254 259 260 263 264 265 266 263
Type of School
Public 262 267 271 269 272 276 278 280 282 283 284 281
Nonpublic 271 281 284 285 286 292 293 296 296 296
Type of Location
City 275 279 279 280 278
Suburb 286 287 287 289 286
Town 280 279 282 282 279
Rural 282 284 286 286 282
Percentile
10th 215 221 224 221 223 230 231 235 236 237 237 235
25th 239 243 248 245 249 254 255 258 259 260 261 258
50th 264 269 273 273 275 279 280 283 284 285 286 283
75th 288 294 298 297 300 303 304 306 308 309 310 308
90th 307 315 317 316 320 323 324 327 329 329 331 329
“-” Indicates data not available*Sample size was insufficient to permit reliable estimates.

1In 1996, NAEP started allowing testing accommodations for students with disabilities and for limited English proficient students. Accommodations may include extra time, one-on-one administration, use of magnifying equipment, translation of assessments, or the use of bilingual dictionaries and are determined by state and district policies.

2Note that none of the race groups include Hispanics of those races.

3Scale scores range from 0 to 500, with a standard deviation of 100.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. National Assessment of Educational Progress Mathematics Assessments (NAEP), 2015, 2013, 2011, 2009, 2007, 2005, 2003, 2000, 1996, 1992, and 1990 Mathematics Assessments. Accessed through the NAEP Data Explorer, at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/naepdata/

 

Appendix 3 – Mathematics Scores3 Among U.S. Students in Grade 12: Selected Years, 1990-2013

1990 1992 1996 1996 2000 2005** 2009 2013
No Accommodations Permitted1 Accommodations Permitted1
Total 294 299 304 302 300 150 153 153
Gender
Male 297 301 305 303 302 151 155 155
Female 291 298 303 300 299 149 152 152
Race/Hispanic Origin2
White 300 305 311 309 307 157 161 162
Black 268 275 280 275 273 127 131 132
Hispanic 276 286 287 284 282 133 138 141
Asian/Pacific Islander 311 312 312 305 315 163 175 172
American Indian 284* 294* 134 144 142
Free/Reduced-Price School Lunch Program Eligibility
Eligible 281 280 279 132 137 139
Not eligible 307 306 304 155 160 162
Information not available 308 303 303 162 159 163
Parent’s Education
Did not finish high school 272 278 282 280 278 130 135 137
Graduated high school 283 288 294 290 287 138 142 139
Some education after high school 297 299 302 302 299 148 150 152
Graduated college 306 311 314 313 312 161 164 164
Unknown 269 277 275 269 274 123 129 127
Type of School
Public 294 297 303 301 300 149 152 152
Nonpublic 300 314 314 310 315
Type of Location
City 152 149
Suburb 157 158
Town 151 151
Rural 151 153
1990 1992 1996 1996 2000 2005** 2009 2013
No Accommodations Permitted1 Accommodations Permitted1
Percentile
10th 247 254 261 257 254 105 110 111
25th 270 276 282 279 276 127 130 131
50th 296 301 305 302 301 151 154 154
75th 319 324 327 326 325 174 177 177
90th 339 343 345 344 346 194 197 197
“-” Indicates data not available.*The nature of the sample does not allow accurate determination of the variability of the statistic.

**In 2005, a new mathematics framework was developed on a 0 to 300 scale, instead of the 0 to 500 scale which was used in previous years, therefore, scores are incomparable.

1In 1996, NAEP started allowing testing accommodations for students with disabilities and for limited English proficient students. Accommodations may include extra time, one-on-one administration, use of magnifying equipment, translation of assessments, or the use of bilingual dictionaries and are determined by state and district policies.

2 Note that none of the race groups include Hispanics of those races.

3Scale scores range from 0 to 500, with a standard deviation of 100.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. National Assessment of Educational Progress Mathematics Assessments (NAEP), 2013, 2009, 2005, 2003, 2000, 1996, 1992, and 1990 Mathematics Assessments. Accessed through the NAEP Data Explorer, at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/naepdata/

 

 

 

Endnotes


[1]Scale scores are derived from student responses to assessment items, summarizing the overall level of performance. While NAEP does not report scale scores for individual students, NAEP does produce summary statistics describing scale scores for groups of students. NAEP subject-area scales typically range from 0 to 500 (reading, fourth- and eighth-grade mathematics, U.S. history, and geography) or from 0 to 300 (science, writing, twelfth-grade mathematics, and civics).

[2]Adelman, C. (1999). Answers in the Tool Box: Academic Intensity, Attendance Patterns, and Bachelor’s Degree Attainment.  Washington, DC: Office of Education Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education. Available at: http://www.ed.gov/pubs/Toolbox/index.html

[3]Attawell, P., & Domina, T. (2008).  Raising the bar: Curricular intensity and academic performance.  Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 30(1), 51-71

[4]Tyler, John H., Murname, R.  J., and Willett, J. B.  (2002).  Who benefits from a GED? Evidence for females from High School and Beyond.”  Economics of Education Review, 22, 237-247.

[5]Kirsch, I., Jungeblut, A., Jenkins, L. & Kolstad, A. (1993). Adult literacy in America: A first look at the findings of the National Adult Literacy Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.  [On-line].  Available at: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs93/93275.pdf

[6]Riley, R. W. (1998). The state of mathematics education: Building a strong foundation for the 21st century. Speech given at the Conference of the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America, January 8,               1998.

[7]Murname, R. J., Willett, J. B., Braatz, M. J., and Duhaldeborde, Y.  (2001). Do different dimensions of male high school students’ skills predict labor market success a decade later? Evidence from the NLSY.  Economics of Education Review 20, 311-320.

[8]Finnie, R. & Meng, R. (2006). The importance of functional literacy: Reading and math skills and labour market outcomes of high school drop-outs.  Statistics Canada.  Available at: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11f0019m/11f0019m2006275-eng.pdf.

[9]Tyler, J. H. (2004).  Basic skills and the earnings of dropouts.  Economics of Education Review, 23, Issue 3, 221-235.

[10]Murnane, R., Wilett, J., and Levy, F.  (1995). “The growing importance of cognitive skills in wage determination.”  The Review of Economics and Statistics, 77(2): 251-266.

[11]Reyna, V. F. & Brainerd, C. J. (2007). The importance of mathematics in health and human judgment: Numeracy, risk communication, and medical decision making. Learning and Individual Differences, Volume 17, Issue 2, 2nd Quarter 2007, Pages 147-159.

[12]In 1996, NAEP started allowing testing accommodations for students with disabilities and for limited English proficient students.  Accommodations may include extra time, one-on-one administration, use of magnifying equipment, translation of assessments, or the use of bilingual dictionaries and are determined by state and district policies.  Beginning in 2002, all NAEP assessments allow accommodations.

[13]Diaz, T. E., Le, H. A., and Wise, L. L. (2006).  NAEP-QA FY06 special study: 12th
grade math trend estimates. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education,
National Center for Education Statistics Available at: http://new.humrro.org/finalreports/NAEP12mathtrends.pdf

[14]Hispanics may be any race. Note that none of the race groups in this report include Hispanics of those races, and that the Asian race group includes Pacific Islanders as well.

 

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2015). Mathematics proficiency. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=mathematics-proficiency

 

Last updated: November 2015

 

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