This report provides a portrait of K−12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in the United States. It examines pre-college mathematics and science learning and how that learning affects postsecondary and career outcomes. It also compares U.S. student performance with that of other nations. Data sources include the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and other public sources.

This report focuses on overall patterns in STEM education and notes variations in STEM access and performance by students’ socioeconomic status (SES), race or ethnicity, and sex. STEM education can provide historically underrepresented populations with pathways for obtaining good jobs and a higher standard of living, if they can access these opportunities (Committee on STEM Education 2018; Doerschuk et al. 2016; Leadership Conference Education Fund 2015; Noonan 2017b; Wang and Degol 2016). Data in this report reveal access and achievement gaps in STEM education across the K–12 spectrum. With few exceptions, the data show strong associations between SES and STEM achievement levels, early and ongoing differences among racial or ethnic groups, and some differences in male and female student achievement. These results are consistent across many measures, including tests of different students across time, tests that follow specific age cohorts, immediate college enrollment rates, and choice of postsecondary STEM majors.

In Charting a Course for Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education, the federal government presented its 5-year strategic plan for STEM education (Committee on STEM Education 2018). The plan envisions a future where all Americans have lifelong access to high-quality STEM education and suggests that high-quality K–12 STEM education is essential if the United States is to meet its goal of being a global leader in STEM literacy, innovation, and employment. It identifies improving STEM education and removing barriers to participation in STEM careers, especially for women and other underrepresented groups, as key goals for STEM efforts in this country. The data presented in this report provide information about the current state of U.S. K–12 STEM education and how the United States measures up to these goals.

There are three main sections in this report. The first presents indicators of U.S. students’ performance in STEM subjects in elementary and secondary school. It begins with an analysis of elementary school students’ growth in mathematics and science knowledge from kindergarten through fifth grade. Next, it presents national trends in mathematics, science, and technology and engineering literacy assessment scores. The section then examines U.S. student performance in an international context. The second section focuses on teacher certification and experience.

The third section focuses on transitions from high school to postsecondary education or directly into the workforce. It presents national data on Advanced Placement (AP) coursetaking. It then examines immediate college enrollment after high school and students’ choice to major in a STEM subject in college. It concludes by examining the transition to the skilled technical workforce (STW) for students who enter the workforce immediately following high school.

Data sources are described in each section of the report. Whenever a comparative statistic is cited, it is statistically significant at the 0.05 probability level, unless otherwise noted.