- Internationally, the United States ranks in the middle of 19 advanced economies in producing high-achieving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) students, with such education systems as Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea outpacing the United States.
- Nationally, U.S. students’ achievement in mathematics has improved in the last three decades. Most of that improvement, however, occurred in the first two decades. In science, U.S. students’ achievement scores improved by 4 points between 2009 and 2015.
- In technology and engineering literacy, U.S. student performance has improved since 2014, when the first national assessment in this subject area was administered.
- The data show differences in achievement scores across STEM subjects by socioeconomic status (SES) and by race or ethnicity. Differences by sex are smaller but still present, although female students outscore male students on assessments of technology and engineering literacy.
- High school STEM achievement and coursetaking can facilitate STEM-related postsecondary education and employment. For example, among students who enter the workforce directly after high school, those who have taken STEM-related career and technical education courses are more likely than others to enter skilled technical jobs.
Elementary and secondary education in mathematics and science is the foundation for student entry into postsecondary STEM majors as well as a wide variety of STEM-related occupations. Federal and state policymakers, legislators, and educators are working to broaden and strengthen STEM education at the K–12 level. These efforts include promoting elementary grade participation in STEM, raising overall student achievement, increasing advanced high school coursetaking, reducing performance gaps among demographic groups, and improving college and career readiness in mathematics and science.
The indicators in this report present a mixed picture of the status and progress of elementary and secondary mathematics and science education in the United States. Internationally, the United States ranks in the middle of advanced economies in producing high-achieving STEM students. Education systems such as Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan outpace the United States in producing students at or above the 90th percentile in mathematics and science achievement scores.
Nationally, students’ achievement in mathematics has improved in the last three decades. However, most of that improvement occurred in the first two decades; and large achievement gaps among demographic groups continue to be present. In science, U.S. students’ achievement scores improved by 4 points between 2009 and 2015, the last time science was assessed. In technology and engineering literacy, U.S. student performance has improved since 2014, when the first national assessment designed to measure achievement in technology and engineering was administered.
The data show achievement gaps by students’ race or ethnicity and SES (and, to a smaller extent, by sex) in U.S. student performance in STEM subjects. These performance differences are observed in assessments as early as kindergarten and persist throughout elementary school and into middle school and high school. For example, in a national cohort of elementary school children, the mathematics score gap between low- and high-SES students was 9 points at the beginning of kindergarten and 13 points in the spring of fifth grade. Scores for low-SES students in a national cohort of eighth graders were 29 points lower than scores for high-SES students. Gaps between white and black and Hispanic students showed similar patterns. Asian students score higher than white students on most measures.
High school STEM achievement and coursetaking can facilitate STEM-related postsecondary education and employment. Students who perform well in mathematics and science in high school are more likely to declare a postsecondary STEM major. The majority of U.S. high school students enroll in postsecondary education immediately after graduation from high school; enrollment patterns, however, differ by demographic groups. For example, black students and students from less advantaged socioeconomic groups enroll at lower rates than their peers. These demographic differences suggest unequal access to higher education and to the opportunities it gives students. Among students who enter the workforce directly after high school, those who take STEM-related career and technical education courses are more likely than others to enter skilled technical jobs. Preparing students for entry into skilled technical jobs is important: these jobs utilize science, engineering, and technical knowledge, and workers in these jobs earn more than workers with a comparable level of education at other jobs.
Taken as a whole, the findings in this report suggest that the United States has yet to achieve the goal of providing high-quality elementary and secondary mathematics and science education for all students. Given the importance of the K–12 STEM pipeline and the opportunities available to students who excel in STEM subjects, it is important to continue to focus on efforts that will increase the number and diversity of students interested in STEM and broaden opportunities for those students to succeed and thrive in STEM.