Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children and Youth, 2000. EA 2.2 Mathematics Proficiency for Children Ages 9, 13, and 17

01/01/2000

One of the National Education Goals for the year 2000, adopted by Congress, is to improve the relative standing of students in the United States in mathematics achievement.27 In a1995 comparison of 8th graders in the United States with their peers in 40 other countries, the Third International Math and Science Study showed that students in the United States had significantly lower overall mathematics proficiency scores than students in 20 countries, had similar scores to students in 13 countries, and had higher scores than students in 7 countries.28

In order to monitor progress in the mathematics achievement of students in the United States, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has conducted national assessments of the mathematics performance of 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds. There are five levels of mathematics proficiency reported by NAEP, ranging from Level 150 (understanding simple arithmetic facts) to Level 350 (multi-step problem solving and algebra).29 The following tables report the average mathematics proficiency scores of students in the three age groups between 1973 and 1996.

Trends in Mathematics Proficiency Scores. Among 9-year-olds, average mathematics proficiency scores remained the same between 1973 and 1982 and then increased substantially to 231 in 1994; scores remained stable from 1994 to 1996 (see Table EA 2.2.A). Among 13-year-olds, mathematics proficiency scores increased between 1978 (264) and 1994 (274); again, scores remained stable from 1994 to 1996 (see Table EA 2.2.B). Among 17-year-olds, average proficiency scores declined between 1973 and 1982, after which they increased and stabilized at a level slightly higher than that obtained in 1973 (see Table EA 2.2.C).

Differences by Gender. In 1996, mathematics proficiency scores were higher for males than for females across all age groups; however, differences are small and in many years were virtually nonexistent for 9- and 13-year-olds. Proficiency scores in 1996 were higher for males by an average of 4 points for 9-year-olds and 13-year-olds and 5 points for 17-year-olds.

Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin.30 There are consistently large differences in mathematics proficiency by race and Hispanic origin. For example, among 17-year-olds in 1996, blacks and Hispanics had lower proficiency scores (286 and 292, respectively) than whites (313) (see Table EA 2.2.C); however, black and Hispanic 17-year-olds had substantial gains in achievement between 1973 and 1996 (see Figure EA 2.2).

Differences by Parents’ Education Level.31 There are large variations in average mathematics proficiency levels by level of parental education for 13- and 17-year-olds (see Tables EA 2.2.B and EA 2.2.C).32 For example, in 1996, 13-year-olds whose better-educated parent did not have a high school education had the lowest average proficiency scores (254), while those whose parent(s) had graduated from college had the highest scores (283) (see Table EA 2.2.B).

Differences by Type of School. Average mathematics proficiency scores among students in public schools have been consistently lower than average scores among students in non-public schools. This is true for every age group and every year reported (see Tables EA 2.2.A, EA 2.2.B, and EA 2.2.C).

 

27 National Education Goals Panel. 1997.
28 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. 1997. Pursuing Excellence: A Study of U.S. Eighth-Grade Mathematics and Science Teaching, Learning, Curriculum, and Achievement in International Context. No. 97-198. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
29 NAEP has regularly been conducting assessments of students in public and private schools in the United States in order to monitor trends in academic achievement in core curriculum areas since the 1970s. NAEP uses proficiency scales that range from 0 to 350. To give meaning to the results, students’ performance is characterized at five levels along the proficiency scales (150, 200, 250, 300, 350).
30 Estimates for whites and blacks exclude Hispanics of those races.
31 Parents’ education level refers to the highest level of education completed by either parent.
32 Parents’ education level is not reported at age 9 because approximately one-third of these students did not know their parent's education level.

 

Table EA 2.2.A Average mathematics proficiency for children age 9 in the United States, by gender, race and Hispanic origin,a and type of school: Selected years, 1973-1996

  1973 1978 1982 1986 1990 1992 1994 1996
Total 219 219 219 222 230 230 231 231
Gender
Male 218 217 217 222 229 231 232 233
Female 220 220 221 222 230 228 230 229
Race and Hispanic origin
White a 225 224 224 227 235 235 237 237
Black a 190 192 195 202 208 208 212 212
Hispanic b 202 203 204 205 214 212 210 215
Type of school
Public 217 217 220 229 228 229 230
Nonpublic 231 232 230 238 242 245 239

a Non-Hispanic.
b Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
Note: The mathematics proficiency scale ranges from 0 to 350
Level 150: Simple arithmetic facts
Level 200: Beginning skills and understanding
Level 250: Numerical operations and beginning problem solving
Level 300: Moderately complex procedures and reasoning
Level 350: Multi-step problem solving and algebra
Sources: Campbell, Voelkl, & Donahue, 1997, Table B.16.

 

Table EA 2.2.B Average mathematics proficiency for children age 13 in the United States, by gender, race and Hispanic origin,a parents’ education level,b and type of school: Selected years, 1973-1996

  1973 1978 1982 1986 1990 1992 1994 1996
Total 266 264 269 269 270 273 274 274
Gender
Male 265 264 269 270 271 274 276 276
Female 267 265 268 268 270 272 273 272
Race and Hispanic origin a
White, non-Hispanic 274 272 274 274 276 279 281 281
Black, non-Hispanic 228 230 240 249 249 250 252 252
Hispanic 239 238 252 254 255 259 256 256
Parents’ education level b
Less than high school 245 251 252 253 256 255 254
Graduated high school 263 263 263 263 263 266 267
Some education after high school 273 275 274 277 278 277 278
Graduated college 284 282 280 280 283 285 283
Type of school
Public 263 267 269 269 272 273 273
Nonpublic 279 281 276 280 283 285 286

a Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
b Parents’ education level refers to the highest level of education completed by either parent.
Note: The mathematics proficiency scale ranges from 0 to 350:
Level 150: Simple arithmetic facts
Level 200: Beginning skills and understanding
Level 250: Numerical operations and beginning problem solving
Level 300: Moderately complex procedures and reasoning
Level 350: Multi-step problem solving and algebra
Sources: Campbell, Voelkl, & Donahue, 1997, Table B.17.

 

Table EA 2.2.C Average mathematics proficiency for children age 17 in the United States, by gender, race and Hispanic origin,a parents’ education level,b and type of school: Selected years, 1973-1996

  1973 1978 1982 1986 1990 1992 1994 1996
Total 304 300 299 302 305 307 306 307
Gender
Male 309 304 302 305 306 309 309 310
Female 301 297 296 299 303 305 304 305
Race and Hispanic origin a
White, non-Hispanic 310 306 304 308 310 312 312 313
Black, non-Hispanic 270 268 272 279 289 286 286 286
Hispanic 270 268 272 279 289 286 286 286
Parents’ education level b
Less than high school 280 279 279 285 286 284 281
Graduated high school 294 293 293 294 298 295 297
Some education after high school 305 304 305 308 308 305 307
Graduated college 317 312 314 316 316 318 317
Type of school
Public 300 297 301 304 305 304 306
Nonpublic 314 311 320 318 320 319 316

a Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
b Parents’ education level refers to the highest level of education completed by either parent.
Note: The mathematics proficiency scale ranges from 0 to 350:
Level 150: Simple arithmetic facts
Level 200: Beginning skills and understanding
Level 250: Numerical operations and beginning problem solving
Level 300: Moderately complex procedures and reasoning
Level 350: Multi-step problem solving and algebra
Sources: Campbell, Voelkl, & Donahue, 1997, Data for 1973 appear in NAEP 1992 Trends in Academic Progress. Report No. 23-TR01, Table B.18.

 

Figure EA 2.2 Average mathematics proficiency for children age 17 in the United States, by race and Hispanic
aorigin: Selected years, 1973-1996

a Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
Note: The mathematics proficiency scale ranges from 0 to 350.
Level 150: Simple arithmetic facts
Level 200: Beginning skills and understanding
Level 250: Numerical operations and beginning problem solving
Level 300: Moderately complex procedures and reasoning
Level 350: Multi-step problem solving and algebra
Sources: Campbell, Voelkl, & Donahue, 1997. Data for 1973 appear in NAEP 1992 Trends in Academic Progress. Report No. 23-TR01, Table B.18.

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