Education policy is based on achievement. After all, if students aren't learning, why teach? Educators and lawmakers look at achievement from two angles: how well are American students doing overall – and how successfully are our schools shrinking the gap between minority and non-minority achievement and between lower and higher income groups).

Not all educators agree on how achievement should be assessed, and organizations like FairTest would have a beef with us for not listing assessments other than standardized test scores, but we're going to cop out on that one – and use almost all our data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) unless otherwise noted.

Although many states have used standardized tests for their students for years, No Child Left Behind, signed into law in 2002, forced all the nation's schools to get in lock step testing patterns.

Test Scores

Percent of 4th graders testing proficient (2005)

  • in math: 36%
  • in reading: 31%

Percent of 8th graders testing proficient (2005)

  • in math: 30%
  • in reading: 31%

NOTE : “Proficient” is defined by NAEP as “competency”, which is better than “basic” (partial mastery), but not as hot as “advanced” (superior achievement). "Proficient" is the goal NCLB is out to achieve.

Over the years - in Reading

source: NCES

Over the years - in Math

source: NCES

Percent of 12th graders proficient in math:

  • 1996: 16%
  • 2000: 16%
  • 2005: 25% (but the test was significantly changed)

Percent of 12th graders proficient in reading:

  • 1998: 40%
  • 2002: 36%
  • 2005: 35%

source: NAEP

Dropout Rates

Percentage of 16-24 year olds not enrolled in high school and lacking the equivalent of a high school diploma (These individuals are known as “status dropouts”) NCES:

  • 2004: 10.3%

  • 2002: 10.5%

  • 1992: 11.0%

  • 1982: 13.9%

  • 1972: 14.6%

The Gap

Status dropout rates by race (2002) NCES:

  • White: 6.5%

  • Black: 11.3%

  • Hispanic: 25.7%

  • Asian/Pacific Islander: 3.9%

4th grade reading levels - broken down by race (2003)

The – slowly - closing gap

source: NCES (copy and pasted, if you couldn't tell)

Compared to other "developed" nations

How American 15 year olds compare with their peers in other rich nations:

Math: NCES (pdf)

  • OECD* average: 500

  • US average: 483

  • How we stack up: 24th out of 29 nations

Reading PISA

  • OECD average: 494

  • US average: 495

  • How we stack up: 15th out of 29 nations

*OECD member nations are mostly European but also include Korea, Canada, Japan Australia, New Zealand, Turkey and Mexico.

Note: Although the links above give the most current info, NationMaster's posting of the 2000 results in math and reading are easier to access.

Where the facts are from:

Also of interest

Updated February, 2007

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