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Rise in NAEP Math Scores Coincides with NCTM Standards

(News Bulletin, January/February 2004)

The 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mathematics scores were higher in 2003 than in all previous assessment years at grades 4 and 8. The results continue the steady improvement for fourth- and eighth-grade students since 1989 when NCTM's mathematics Standards were first introduced. Responding to the results, NCTM President Johnny Lott said, "NAEP's 2003 results show encouraging national progress. This progress is a very good indicator for mathematics programs across the nation."


Percent of Students
at or above Basic and Proficient in Mathematics
percent of students
The percentage of students who performed at or above the basic and proficient levels on the 2003 NAEP mathematics test was higher in 2003 than in all the previous assessment years at both grades 4 and 8.

Secretary of Education Rod Paige described the mathematics results of the 2003 national NAEP as "stellar" and commended the nation's teachers who have led students to higher levels of achievement.

The 2003 NAEP characterized mathematics performance as basic, proficient, or advanced. Scores show that 77 percent of fourth-grade students and 68 percent of eighth-grade students performed at or above the basic level in mathematics, compared to 65 percent and 63 percent, respectively, in 2000. Nearly 30 percent of students in the fourth- and eighth-grade samples scored at or above the proficient level, improvements of 8 percent and 3 percent since 2000. Overall scores increased from 226 to 235 in fourth grade and from 273 to 278 in eighth grade. The test, also known as "the nation's report card," was given to approximately 343,000 students at 12,862 schools nationwide.


Percent of Students
at or above Basic and Proficient in Mathematics
ethnicity chart
Since 2000 there has been a dramatic increase in the percent of fourth-and eighth-grade students with mathematics skills at or above the basic and proficient levels in all racial and ethnic subgroups.

Gains in mathematics performance extended across nearly all groups, with black and Hispanic students accounting for some of the most significant improvements. Black fourth-grade students performing at or above the basic level improved from 36 percent in 2000 to 54 percent in 2003. Hispanic fourth-grade students whose performance was at or above the basic level increased from 42 percent in 2000 to 62 percent in 2003.

Lott reminded mathematics teachers that although these results are encouraging, they also indicate that much work needs to be done to improve the scores of minority students and children in poverty. Students from these populations still lag behind their peers in mathematics.

"Since the first Standards document was released by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in 1989, we have looked at the achievement gap to see what this organization can do to close that gap," said Lott. "The Council's platform states that every child should have the opportunity to receive a strong mathematics education in a safe learning environment. We will continue to work toward that goal."

Scores in mathematics also showed improvements for both sexes. Although differences remain between male and female scores, they are not large. At the fourth-grade, the male average was 3 points higher than the female average in 2003, and at the eighth-grade, males scored 2 points higher than females.

About the NAEP Assessments

Since 1969, federally mandated NAEP assessments have been conducted regularly in reading, mathematics, science, writing, history, geography, the arts, and other academic fields. In addition, NAEP is developing assessments in world history, economics, and foreign language. The purpose of NAEP is to maintain data on trends in education over time.

Mathematics was first assessed by NAEP in 1973, and since then two assessments, the national NAEP and trend NAEP, have been used to follow different areas of progress in mathematics education.

The national NAEP, which is updated with new items each time it is administered, assesses how well students are learning the mathematics that they will need to enter today's workforce. NCTM has participated in the development of the mathematics framework for the national NAEP several times since it was first administered in 1990. In fact, the 1990 NAEP framework reflected NCTM's Standards document, Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics.

This year the national NAEP was administered in mathematics and reading in all 50 states for the very first time. In the past, approximately 80 percent of the states have voluntarily participated. The increase in participation is the result of the No Child Left Behind legislation signed into law in 2002. Beginning in 2003, the law requires that states receiving federal Title I education funds participate in the national NAEP reading and mathematics assessments at grades 4 and 8 every two years. Participation in all other NAEP subjects and grades remains voluntary. (An assessment schedule is available online at

In contrast to the national NAEP, the trend NAEP is used to compare students of today with students of the 1970s. The same test items have been used for mathematics since 1973. The trend NAEP is commonly called the "long-term trend NAEP" because it provides 30 years of results to compare and analyze. The trend NAEP is conducted every four years and is currently being conducted in schools to assess students' skills in mathematics and reading. For more information about the trend NAEP, visit

For More Information about the 2003 NAEP

  • To learn more about the 2003 NAEP mathematics results, visit
  • After each NAEP assessment, one-third of the questions are designated for public release. To access NAEP questions, visit, or contact the National Center for Education Statistics, NAEP Released Exercises, 1990 K Street, NW, Washington, DC 20006.

Other NCTM Articles about the NAEP

Students Make Gains in Mathematics

NAEP: Understanding the Headlines

NCTM Advises NAEP Planners

Rise in NAEP Math Scores Coincides with NCTM Standards

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