Just the Facts: U.S. Science Achievement

Published April 1, 2004
Flat Long-term Trend in
U.S. Science Achievement
Year Average Scale Score
Age 9 Age 13 Age 17
1969/7 225 255 305
1982 221 250 283
1990 229 255 290
1999 229 256 295
Source: National Assessment of Educational Progress

For more than three decades, the long-term trend studies of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have tracked how well U.S. students perform in science at three age/grade levels. The trends in test scores for 9-year-olds and 13-year-olds have been relatively flat. For 17-year-olds, scores dropped sharply during the 1970s and have since risen steadily, though not to the level achieved when the tests were first administered.

The results from the 2000 annual NAEP science assessment showed 29 percent of fourth-graders were proficient or above in science. By eighth grade, this percentage rises to 32 percent. However, by 12 grade the percentage plummets to just 18 percent.

U.S. Science Proficiency Plummets in High School
Percent of Students
Proficient and Above
4th-Grade 8th-Grade 12th-Grade
  29% 32% 18%
Source: Nation’s Report Card for Science: 2000

Results from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) also indicate U.S. student achievement in science falls off as grade level increases. While U.S. fourth-graders are better than average in science compared to their peers in other countries, U.S. twelfth-graders score well below average.


For more information …

U.S. High School Students Lag the World in Science
Twelfth-grade Scores
Third International Math and Science Study
Country Score
Sweden 559
Netherlands 558
Iceland 549
Norway 544
Canada 532
New Zealand 529
Australia 527
Switzerland 523
Austria 520
Slovenia 517
Denmark 509
International Avg 500
Germany 497
Czech Republic 487
France 487
Russian Federation 481
United States 480
Italy 475
Hungary 471
Lithuania 461
Cyprus 448
South Africa 349
Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Information on the National Assessment of Education Progress, also known as “the Nation’s Report Card,” is available online at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard.

Information on international comparisons in education, including results from the Third International Math and Science Study, is available online at http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/international.