Today’s 9- and 13-year-old students scored higher in reading and mathematics than their counterparts did 40 years ago according to The Nation’s Report Card: Trends in Academic Progress 2012, a long-term trend assessment designed to track changes in the achievement of students ages 9, 13 and 17 since the 1970s. However, 17-year-olds did not show similar gains.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) long-term trend assessment is administered every four years and measures basic reading and mathematics skills to gauge how the performance of U.S. students has changed over time. Reading was first assessed in 1971, and mathematics in 1973. Results in 2012 from more than 50,000 public- and private-school students across the country are compared with assessments since the 1970s and offer an extended view of changes in achievement over the years.

Also known as The Nation’s Report Card, NAEP main assessments monitor student achievement at grades 4, 8 and 12 and are given to a nationally representative sample of students in reading, mathematics and many other subjects. The long-term trend differs from the main NAEP assessments in both its questions and its measurement of achievement, aiming to capture changes over time in student progress. The long-term assessment results are reported in average scores (0 to 500), at percentiles (10th and 25th, or lower performing; 50th, or middle; and 75th and 90th, or higher performing), and performance levels of 150, 200, 250, 300 and 350.

Most notable in the long-term trend report is the improvement in scores among today’s black and Hispanic students compared with black and Hispanic students who took the assessments years ago. In 2012, 9-year-old black students on average scored 36 points higher than their counterparts in the early 1970s in both reading and mathematics; 13-year-olds scored an average of 24 points higher in reading and 36 points higher in mathematics. Hispanic students at age 9 scored an average of 25 points higher in reading and 32 points higher in mathematics than their counterparts in the 1970s. At age 17, average scores for Hispanic students rose 21 points in reading and 17 points in mathematics. Score gaps between white students and other racial/ethnic groups persist, although those gaps are generally smaller than they were four decades ago.

In addition, the results show the gender gap is narrowing in each subject. At all ages, female students on average are scoring better in mathematics than they were 40 years ago.  In reading, score gains from 1971 to 2012 for male students narrowed the gap at age 9. While female students continue to score higher than male students at that age, the increase in male students’ average scores narrowed the gender gap by about 8 points, from a 13-point gap in 1971 to a 5-point gap in 2012.


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