Report: U.S. High School Students Challenged By Math, Science

WASHINGTON – High school students in the United States are consistently outperformed by those from Asian and some European countries on international assessments of mathematics and science, according to The Condition of Education 2006 report released June 1 by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Fourth-graders, by comparison, score as well or better than most of their international peers, although their counterparts in other countries are gaining ground.

“While our younger students are making progress on national assessments and are ahead on some international measures, the same can not be said at the high school level,” said Mark Schneider, NCES Commissioner. “U.S. students do relatively well in reading literacy when compared to their international peers, but they are outperformed in mathematics and science, and our 15-year-old students trail many of our competitors in math and science literacy.”

The Condition of Education is a congressionally mandated report that provides an annual statistical portrait of education in the United States. The 50 indicators included in the report cover all aspects of education, from student achievement to school environment and from early childhood through postsecondary education.

The report shows that U. S. public schools have the most diverse student population than at any other time in history. In addition, more individuals are enrolling in postsecondary education, and more bachelor’s degrees have been awarded than in the past.

Among the report’s other findings:

Elementary/Secondary Achievement

  • U.S. fourth-grade students had higher reading literacy scores than students in 23 of the 34 participating countries, according to one international assessment. In mathematics, fourth graders’ performance was better than their peers in 13 countries but lower than 11 others. In science, students in only three countries scored higher. However, while other countries made gains from 1995 in mathematics and science, U.S. scores were unchanged.
  • U.S. eighth-graders improved their standings relative to students of 21 other countries that participated in international assessments in math and science from 1995 to 2003.
  • U.S. 15-year-olds had lower average scores in mathematics and science literacy compared with most of their peers from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries.
  • Fourth-graders showed improvements in math and science, with rising scores between 1996 and 2005 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
  • Twelfth-graders’ performance in NAEP science declined between 1996 and 2005.

Postsecondary Education

  • More students are enrolling in colleges and getting degrees, and the enrollment increase is projected to continue through 2015.
  • The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded increased by 33 percent between 1989-90 and 2003-04, while the number of associate’s degrees increased by 46 percent.
  • The sole decline among the top five most popular degree fields between 1989-90 and 2003-04 was in engineering and engineering technologies (five percent).

America’s Students Today

  • Nineteen percent of children ages 5-17 speak a language other than English at home.
  • Minority students make up 43 percent of public school enrollment.
  • Female college enrollment passed male enrollment in 1978, and the gender gap has widened and is expected to grow.

NCES is the statistical center of the Institute of Education Sciences in the U.S. Department of Education. The full text of The Condition of Education 2006 (in HTML format), along with related data tables and indicators from previous years, can be viewed at

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