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National Center for Education Statistics

New International Comparisons of Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy Assessments

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a study of 15-year-old students’ performance in reading, mathematics, and science literacy that is conducted every 3 years. The PISA 2018 results provide us with a global view of U.S. students’ performance compared with their peers in nearly 80 countries and education systems. In PISA 2018, the major domain was reading literacy, although mathematics and science literacy were also assessed.

In 2018, the U.S. average score of 15-year-olds in reading literacy (505) was higher than the average score of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries (487). Compared with the 76 other education systems with PISA 2018 reading literacy data, including both OECD and non-OECD countries, the U.S. average reading literacy score was lower than in 8 education systems, higher than in 57 education systems, and not measurably different in 11 education systems. The U.S. percentage of top performers in reading was larger than in 63 education systems, smaller than in 2 education systems, and not measurably different in 11 education systems. The average reading literacy score in 2018 (505) was not measurably different from the average score in 2000 (504), the first year PISA was administered. Among the 36 education systems that participated in both years, 10 education systems reported higher average reading literacy scores in 2018 compared with 2000, and 11 education systems reported lower scores.

The U.S. average score of 15-year-olds in mathematics literacy in 2018 (478) was lower than the OECD average score (489). Compared with the 77 other education systems with PISA 2018 mathematics literacy data, the U.S. average mathematics literacy score was lower than in 30 education systems, higher than in 39 education systems, and not measurably different in 8 education systems. The average mathematics literacy score in 2018 (478) was not measurably different from the average score in 2003 (483), the earliest year with comparable data. Among the 36 education systems that participated in both years, 10 systems reported higher mathematics literacy scores in 2018 compared with 2003, 13 education systems reported lower scores, and 13 education systems reported no measurable changes in scores.  

The U.S. average score of 15-year-olds in science literacy (502) was higher than the OECD average score (489). Compared with the 77 other education systems with PISA 2018 science literacy data, the U.S. average science literacy score was lower than in 11 education systems, higher than in 55 education systems, and not measurably different in 11 education systems. The average science literacy score in 2018 (502) was higher than the average score in 2006 (489), the earliest year with comparable data. Among the 52 education systems that participated in both years, 7 education systems reported higher average science literacy scores in 2018 compared with 2006, 22 education systems reported lower scores, and 23 education systems reported no measurable changes in scores.

PISA is conducted in the United States by NCES and is coordinated by OECD, an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries. Further information about PISA can be found in the technical notes, questionnaires, list of participating OECD and non-OECD countries, released assessment items, and FAQs.

 

By Thomas Snyder

New 2019 Reading and Mathematics Assessment Data on 4th- and 8th-Grade Students

The average reading score for U.S. 4th- and 8th-grade students decreased between 2017 and 2019. Changes in mathematics scores were mixed during this period, with an increase at grade 4 and a decrease at grade 8. These data are from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—also known as The Nation’s Report Card. NAEP is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what students in the United States know and can do in various subject areas and is frequently referred to as the “gold standard” of student assessments.

In 4th-grade reading, the average scale score in 2019 was 220, one point lower than in 2017 (figure 1). In 8th-grade reading, the average scale score was 263, three points lower than in 2017 (figure 2). Compared with a decade ago in 2009, the 2019 average reading scale scores at each grade were not significantly different, but they were higher than the scale scores in 1992, the first time the reading assessment was administered.

 


Figure 1. Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale scores of 4th-grade students: Selected years, 1992–2019

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2019

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Figure 2. Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale scores of 8th-grade students: Selected years, 1992–2019

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2019

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In 4th-grade mathematics, the average scale score in 2019 was 241, one point higher than in 2017 (figure 3). In 8th-grade mathematics, the average scale score in 2019 was 282, one point lower than in 2017 (figure 4). Like reading, average scale scores for mathematics at both grades in 2019 were not significantly different than in 2009. Mathematics scale scores for both grade were higher in 2019 than in 1990, the first time the mathematics assessments were administered.

 


Figure 3. Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mathematics scale scores of 4th-grade students: Selected years, 1990–2019

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2019

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— Accommodations permitted

 

Figure 4. Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mathematics scale scores of 8th-grade students: Selected years, 1990–2019

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2019

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The Nation’s Report Card also presents data by different demographic groups—such as race/ethnicity—gender, school type, and region. White and Black 4th- and 8th-grade students scored lower in reading in 2019 than in 2017. Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native 8th-grade students also scored lower in reading in 2019 than in 2017. In mathematics, 4th-grade Hispanic students scored higher in 2019 than in 2017, and 8th-grade American Indian/Alaska Native students scored lower in 2019 than in 2017. From 2017 to 2019, males’ scores increased in mathematics at grade 4 but decreased in reading at both grades.

NCES administered the 2019 NAEP mathematics and reading assessments to almost 600,000 4th- and 8th-graders in public and private schools in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of Defense schools, and 27 urban districts. Samples of schools and students are drawn from each state and from the District of Columbia and Department of Defense schools.

Visit https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/ to view the report.

New Data Tell the Story of Public and Private Schools and Their Leaders

Which schools would you guess, on average, spend more instructional time on English, reading, and language arts—public schools or private schools? How about on mathematics?

These questions and many others are answered in recently released reports on U.S. public and private schools and principals. The data in these reports are from the 2017–18 National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), which is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). NTPS previously collected data from public schools, principals, and teachers during the 2015–16 school year, but this is the first private school collection since the 2011–12 school year. (The latest NTPS data on public and private school teachers will be released later this year.)

The NTPS collects data about principals’ educational backgrounds and goals, as well as the climate of their schools and other general information about their schools and special programs and services provided. These data serve as a resource for researchers, policymakers, and the general public who are interested in understanding the current experiences and conditions of U.S. public and private schools.

The 2017–18 NTPS featured several new topic areas, such as the following:

  • School instruction time. Overall, schools reported that third-graders spent a weekly average of 500 minutes on instruction in English, reading, and language arts; 350 minutes on instruction in arithmetic or mathematics; and 170 minutes each on instruction in science and social studies or history. Here are some data to answer the questions from the beginning of this post:
    • Public schools reported that third-graders spent a weekly average of 540 minutes on instruction in English, reading, and language arts; 370 minutes on instruction in arithmetic or mathematics; 170 minutes on instruction in science; and 160 minutes on instruction in social studies or history.
    • Private schools reported that third-graders spent a weekly average of 400 minutes on instruction in English, reading, and language arts; 280 minutes on instruction in arithmetic or mathematics; and 170 minutes each on instruction in science and social studies or history.
       

Figure 1. Average minutes reported by public and private schools that third-grade students spend on selected subjects per week: 2017–18

NOTE: Schools that reported 0 minutes per week for a subject were excluded from the calculations of average minutes per week.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), “Public School and Private School Documentation Data Files,” 2017–18. Please see Characteristics of Public and Private Elementary and Secondary Schools in the United States: Results From the 2017–18 National Teacher and Principal Survey First Look, table 7.


 

  • ​Principals’ professional development. Overall, 83 percent of all principals reported participating in any professional development activities in the 2016–17 school year. Specifically, 85 percent of public school principals and 77 percent of private school principals reported doing so.
  • Evaluation of principals. Among public school principals, relatively more principals in traditional public schools were evaluated during the last school year than were principals in public charter schools (79 and 69 percent, respectively). Relatively more private school principals in Catholic and nonsectarian schools (63 and 58 percent, respectively) were evaluated during the last school year than were principals in other religious schools (41 percent).

Data files for the 2017–18 school and principal questionnaires will be released later this year. In order to protect the identities of responding schools and principals, researchers must apply for a restricted-use license to access the full restricted-use data files. Data will also be available through NCES’ online data tool, DataLab, where users can create custom tables and regressions without a restricted-use license.

 

By Maura Spiegelman

The experiences of our nation’s young children from kindergarten through fourth grade

By Jill Carlivati McCarroll and Gail M. Mulligan

In 2014–15, boys had higher fourth-grade math scores than girls, but no significant differences were found in boys’ versus girls’ fourth-grade reading knowledge and skills. These findings come from the most recent data release for the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011). A recently released report provides a first look at the status of students who were in kindergarten for the first time during the 2010-11 school year and were in fourth grade in 2014-15. The longitudinal nature of this study allows for a comparison of trends over time. For example, differences in math scores between boys and girls were also observed in third grade but not in earlier grades. No significant differences in reading results for boys and girls have been detected in any grade between kindergarten and fourth. More data on assessment scores, as well as the demographic and family characteristics of the cohort of students who were first-time kindergartners in 2010-11, are available in the reports.

The series of Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies are consistently some of the most popular NCES studies due in large part to the fact that they provide comprehensive and reliable data on important topics such as child development, school readiness, and early school experiences. The ECLS-K:2011 was designed to provide data that can be used to describe and to better understand children’s development and experiences in the elementary grades, and how children’s early experiences relate to their later development, learning, and experiences in school. The study is longitudinal, meaning that it followed the same group of children over time; in the case of the ECLS-K:2011, children were followed from their kindergarten year (the 2010-11 school year) until the spring of 2016, when most of the children were in the fifth grade.

All planned waves of data through fifth grade have been collected and staff at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) are hard at work releasing reports of the findings as well as the data from all rounds of the study. Researchers, educators, policy makers, and other interested members of the public now have access to much of the important data from the ECLS-K:2011, with additional reports and data releases on their way.

The diverse sample of children who participated in the ECLS-K:2011 is nationally representative of students who were in kindergarten in U.S. schools in the 2010-11 school year. Information on children’s cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development was collected every year using direct child assessments and surveys for the adults central to the children’s education. Adults surveyed for the study included the children’s parents/guardians, their teachers, their school administrators, and their kindergarten before- and after-school care providers. Topics covered by the surveys included the children’s home environment, home educational activities, school environment, classroom environment, classroom curriculum, teacher qualifications, and before- and after-school care. 

Public-use data from the kindergarten through fourth-grade rounds of the ECLS-K:2011 are now available online. A restricted-use dataset with data from the kindergarten through fourth-grade rounds is also available to qualified researchers with an IES Restricted-use Data License. For information on licensing, please see https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/licenses.asp. The schedule of future data releases is available on the ECLS website.

For more information on the ECLS-K:2011 as well as the other ECLS studies, please see our homepage or email the ECLS study team at ECLS@ed.gov.  

Reading for fun: Using NAEP data to explore student attitudes

By Lauren Musu-Gillette

The National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP) is well-known as one of the key resources for information about the academic progress and performance of U.S. students. But did you know that NAEP also collects other important data on students’ behaviors and attitudes? For example, NAEP Long-Term Trend reading assessments have asked students how often they read for fun. Using these data, we can see how the frequency of reading for fun differs by student age and over time. These data can also be examined in conjunction with students’ reading assessment scores on NAEP.

A higher percentage of younger students reported that they read for fun almost every day than older students. In 2012, about 53 percent of 9-year-olds reported that they read for fun almost every day, compared to 27 percent of 13-year-olds and 19 percent of 17-year-olds. Conversely, about 27 percent of 17-year-olds said they never or hardly ever read for fun compared to 22 percent of 13-year-olds and 11 percent of 9-year-olds. For 17-year-olds, the percentage who reported that they read for fun almost every day decreased over time, from 31 percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2012.


Percentage of students reading for fun almost every day, by age: 1984 and 2012

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Long-Term Trend Reading Assessments. See Digest of Education Statistics 2014, table 221.30.


There were also differences in reading assessment scores by frequency of reading for fun. In 2012, students who were 17-years-old and read for fun almost every day had higher scores (302 points) than those that never or hardly ever read for fun (272 points). The same was true for 13-year-olds (276 vs. 249 points, respectively) and 9-year-olds (226 vs. 208 points, respectively). Note, however, that comparisons like these between reading assessment scores and frequency of reading for fun cannot be used to establish a cause-and-effect relationship. 

Other questions about students’ reading behaviors and attitudes are included on the main NAEP assessments. For example, in addition to a question about the frequency of reading for fun, the 2015 questionnaire included the following items:

  • About how many books are there in your home?
  • How often do you talk with your friends or family about something you have read?
  • Reading is one of my favorite activities (with response options: this is not like me, this is a little like me, and this is a lot like me)

Questions like these can be compared with students’ assessment scores to examine how attitudes, behaviors, and achievement may be related.