Humanities Indicators
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K-12 Education  >  National Measures of Achievement
 
Student Proficiency in Reading, Math, and Science
(Updated July 2019)

The main National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the source of the data on which the indicators below are based, evaluates fourth-, eighth-, and 12th-grade students’ ability to tackle demanding reading tasks that are more in line with current curricula than the basic skills measured in the NAEP long-term trend assessment (used for the indicators under “Trends in Basic Reading Skills among School-Age Children”). As of 2017, a majority of students at each grade level failed to demonstrate proficiency in reading, math, or science.

Findings and Trends

  • Among fourth graders, 37% of students demonstrated reading skills at or above the proficient level in 2017, while 32% displayed below basic skills (Indicator I-1d).
  • Fourth-grade students performed better on the math and science assessments than on the reading. While the share demonstrating proficiency was similar across all three subjects, the share demonstrating below basic skills was larger in reading than in either math or science.
  • The proportion of eighth and 12th graders demonstrating at least proficiency on the reading assessment in the most recent years for which data are available was similar to that of their younger counterparts (Indicators I-1e and I-1f). In the upper grades, however, a somewhat smaller proportion of students demonstrated reading skills that were below the basic level.
  • Among eighth graders, the share of students demonstrating proficiency in reading was similar to that for math and science in 2017.
  • At the 12th-grade level, students performed better in reading than in either science or math in 2015 (12th graders were not assessed in 2017).
  • At the two lower grade levels, the improvement in student achievement from the late 1990s to 2017 was considerably greater in math than in reading. The percentage of students scoring at the proficient level or higher on the math assessment rose 19 percentage points from 1996 to 2017 at the fourth-grade level and 11 percentage points among eighth graders. In contrast, the improvement in reading was only eight percentage points for fourth graders and four percentage points for eighth graders over the same period.
  • Among 12th graders, reading achievement declined somewhat from 1998 to 2015. (Comparison of the reading trend with the math and science trends is not possible, as data for the latter two subjects are not available for the late 1990s.)
  • Active Data Visualization I-1v allows users to compare states according to the share of their fourth and eighth grade students who demonstrated reading proficiency on the 2017 NAEP reading assessment. Massachusetts and New Jersey had the largest shares of fourth-grade students reading at the proficient level or higher.[1] With respect to eighth-grade reading, the largest observed proficiency share was found in Massachusetts (although the difference between its share and those of New Hampshire and New Jersey was not found to be statistically significant at the 5% level).
I-1d: Fourth Graders’ Performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), by Subject, Late 1990s/2009–2015/2017*

* Main NAEP assessment.
** Difference in share between the two time points is statistically significant at the 5% level.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress. Data accessed via the NAEP Data Explorer at https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/naeptools.aspx. Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

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I-1e: Eighth Graders’ Performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), by Subject, Late 1990s/2009–2015/2017*

* Main NAEP assessment.
** Difference in share between the two time points is statistically significant at the 5% level.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress. Data accessed via the NAEP Data Explorer at https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/naeptools.aspx. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

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I-1f: 12th Graders’ Performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), by Subject, 1998/2005/2009–2015*

* Main NAEP assessment.
** Difference in share between the two time points is statistically significant at the 5% level.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress. Data accessed via the NAEP Data Explorer at https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/naeptools.aspx. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

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I-1v: Share of Fourth and Eighth Graders Scoring at the “Proficient” Level or Above on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), by State, 2017

To download the data underlying the graph, click on of either of the graphs, then on the download icon in the gray footer. Click on the “Data” button, go to the “Full Data” tab, and then click the “Show all columns” box. Finally, click on either of the “Download all rows as a text file” links.

* Noted differences are statistically significant at the 5% level. The states whose bars are shaded gray had shares of students that were not measurably different from the share of all US students scoring at the proficient level or above. Not all differences in shares among states within a given category are statistically significant.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress. Data accessed via the NAEP Data Explorer at https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/naeptools.aspx. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

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Endnotes

[1] Although Massachusetts had the larger observed share of proficient readers, the difference between its share and New Jersey’s was not statistically significant at the 5% level.