How have American students been performing in math over the past 20 years?

Why is this question important? Proficiency in mathematics has long been a yardstick by which we have measured the effectiveness of the American education system. Tracking student performance over time in math acts as a gauge of both the overall success in the nation’s schools success in teaching core curricula as well judging the effects of reform efforts.

See further discussion below.


Source: American National NAEP Math Scores 1990 through 2009. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), from the NAEP Data Explorer ( ).

Results: From 1990 to 2009, average NAEP mathematics scores increased 27 points for 4th-graders and 20 points for 8th-graders. Increases in scores were seen for both males and females and for most racial/ethnic groups. Both male and female 8th-graders scored higher in 2009 than in any of the previous assessments. For detailed information, please refer to  (table 136).

Implications: Over the past 19 years 4th grade math scores have improved by 13%. Unfortunately, the 8th grade scores rose only 8% during this same period. The overall trend appears to be relatively flat and indicates significant room for improvement.

Authors:  IES National Center for Educational Services

Publisher: U.S. Department of Education
Institute of Education Sciences - IES National Center for Educational Services

Study Description: The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) conducts long-term trend assessments, which provide information on changes in the basic achievement of America’s youth since the early 1970s. They are administered nationally and report student performance at ages 9, 13, and 17 in reading and mathematics. Measuring trends of student achievement or change over time requires the precise replication of past procedures. Therefore, the long-term trend instrument does not evolve based on changes in curricula or in educational practices.  Scale ranges from 0 to 500. Includes public and private schools. Excludes persons not enrolled in school and those who were unable to be tested due to limited proficiency in English or due to a disability.

Please note: For purposes of data display, test results for the years 1996 and 2000 did not permit accommodations. These results did not impact the trend.

National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP):  “The Nation’s Report Card” is the only ongoing national standardized assessment of reading, math, science, writing, US history, civics, geography, and the arts. The test is administered to random schools in each state to evaluate national performance of students ages 7, 12, 14, and 17.

Related Research:  American National NAEP Reading Scores 1990 through 2009