NCES Blog

National Center for Education Statistics

The Growing Reading Gap: IES Event to Link Knowledge to Action Through Literacy Data

On June 8 and 9, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) will host a Reading Summit to address one of the most important issues confronting American education today: the declining reading performance of America’s lowest-performing students and the growing gap between low- and high-performing students.

At this 2-day virtual event, participants will explore the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), as well as other IES data, and learn strategies to help educators and low-performing readers make progress.

Learn more about the summit’s agenda and speakers—including IES Director Mark Schneider, NCES Commissioner James L. Woodworth, and NCES Associate Commissioner Peggy Carr—and register to participate (registration is free).

In the meantime, explore some of the data NCES collects on K–12 literacy and reading achievement, which show that the scores of students in the lowest-performing groups are decreasing over time.

  • The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) administers reading assessments to 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-grade students. The most recent results from 2019 show that average reading scores for students in the 10th percentile (i.e., the lowest-performing students) decreased between 2017 and 2019 at grade 4 (from 171 to 168) and grade 8 (from 219 to 213) and decreased between 2019 and 2015 at grade 12 (from 233 to 228).
  • The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) is an international comparative assessment that measures 4th-grade students’ reading knowledge and skills. The most recent findings from 2016 show that the overall U.S. average score (549) was higher than the PIRLS scale centerpoint (500), but at the 25th percentile, U.S. 4th-graders scored lower in 2016 (501) than in 2011 (510).
  • The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a study of 15-year-old students’ performance in several subjects, including reading literacy. The 2018 results show that, although the overall U.S. average reading score (505) was higher than the OECD average score (487), at the 10th percentile, the U.S. average score in 2018 (361) was not measurably different from the score in 2015 and was lower than the score in 2012 (378).

NCES also collects data on young children’s literacy knowledge and activities as well as the literacy competencies of adults. Here are a few data collections and tools for you to explore:

This year, the Condition of Education includes a newly updated indicator on literacy activities that parents reported doing with young children at home. Here are some key findings from this indicator, which features data from the 2019 NHES Early Childhood Program Participation Survey:

In the week before the parents were surveyed,

  • 85 percent of 3- to 5-year-olds were read to by a family member three or more times.
  • 87 percent of 3- to 5-year-olds were told a story by a family member at least once.
  • 96 percent of 3- to 5-year-olds were taught letters, words, or numbers by a family member at least once.

In the month before the parents were surveyed,

  • 37 percent of 3- to 5-year-olds visited a library with a family member at least once.

Be sure to read the full indicator in the 2021 Condition of Education, which was released in May, for more data on young children’s literacy activities, including analyses by race/ethnicity, mother’s educational attainment, and family income.

Don’t forget to follow NCES on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to stay up-to-date on the latest findings and trends in literacy and reading data and register for the IES Reading Summit to learn more about this topic from experts in the field. 

 

By Megan Barnett, AIR

New International Data Identify “Resilient” Students in Financial Literacy

NCES recently released the results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018 assessment of financial literacy. This assessment measured 15-year-old students’ knowledge and understanding of financial concepts, products, and risks and their ability to apply that knowledge to real-life situations. It found that, on average, U.S. students performed similarly to their peers across the 12 other participating Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. 

The assessment also found that 12 percent of U.S. students performed at the highest level of proficiency (level 5). Performance at this level indicates that students can apply their understanding of financial terms and concepts to analyze complex financial products, solve nonroutine financial problems, and describe potential outcomes of financial decisions in the big picture.[1] The U.S. percentage was again similar to the OECD average.

However, this analysis also identified a group of students who might be considered “resilient.” In education research, resilience is defined as the ability to perform well academically despite coming from the disadvantaged backgrounds that have more commonly been associated with lower performance.

High-performing students came from across the spectrum of school poverty levels, as measured by the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL).[2] In particular, 7 percent of high-performing students in financial literacy came from the highest poverty schools (figure 1).


Figure 1. Percentage distribution of U.S. 15-year-olds in public schools scoring below level 2 and at level 5 of proficiency on the PISA financial literacy scale, by percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL) at their school: 2018

NOTE: Data for percentage of students eligible for FRPL were available for public schools only. An individual student’s level of poverty may vary within schools. Detail may not sum to totals due to rounding.

SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2018.


It is these 7 percent of students who could be considered “resilient” and may be of interest for further study. For example, research could identify if there are factors that are associated with their high performance when compared to their lower performing peers in similar schools. Research on academically resilient students that used eighth-grade data from TIMSS found, for example, that having high educational aspirations increased the likelihood that students with few home education resources performed at or above the TIMSS Intermediate international benchmark in mathematics.[3] Experiencing less bullying also increased this likelihood.

Examining the “resilient” PISA financial literacy students more closely could also determine the extent to which their individual backgrounds are related to performance. This would be of interest because, even within high-poverty schools, students’ individual circumstances may vary. 

Patterns in Other PISA Subjects

There are similar subsets of “resilient” students in the other PISA 2018 subjects (table 1). Eight percent of high performers in reading were from the highest poverty schools, as were 5 percent of high performers in mathematics and 7 percent of high performers in science.


Table 1. Percentage of U.S. 15-year-olds in public schools scoring at or above level 5 of proficiency, by PISA subject and their schools’ free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL) status: 2018

[Standard errors appear in parentheses]

NOTE: Results are scaled separately; thus, percentages cannot be compared across subjects. Level 5 is the highest level of proficiency in financial literacy; levels 5 and 6 are the highest levels of proficiency in the other PISA subjects. Data for students eligible for FRPL were available for public schools only.

SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2018.


For more information on the PISA 2018 results in financial literacy and other subjects, visit the NCES International Activities website. To create customized data and charts using PISA and other international assessment data, use the International Data Explorer.

 

By Maria Stephens, AIR


[2] Data for students eligible for FRPL are available for public schools only.

[3] Students at the Intermediate international benchmark can apply basic mathematical knowledge in a variety of situations, and those above this benchmark can do so in increasingly complex situations and, at the highest end, reason with information, draw conclusions, make generalizations, and solve linear equations.

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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— Accommodations permitted

 

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

--- Accommodations not permitted

— Accommodations permitted


 

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

--- Accommodations not permitted

— 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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— Accommodations permitted


 

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