This report presented indicators of K–12 STEM education from a variety of sources across the spectrum of K–12 education. It explored mathematics achievement for fourth and eighth graders; computer science performance for eighth graders; U.S. mathematics, science, and computer science performance compared with that of other nations; U.S. mathematics and science teachers’ qualifications; how U.S. teachers compare internationally on a variety of dimensions; and high school students’ preparation for postsecondary education and the workforce. These data suggest that the United States has the potential for improvement in several areas, including ensuring that (1) all students have equal access to STEM opportunities; (2) STEM achievement continues to improve; and (3) the United States is globally competitive in K–12 STEM education outcomes. The analyses presented here also suggest that K–12 STEM education plays a critical role in introducing students to STEM topics and preparing them to enter STEM majors and jobs.

Internationally, PISA data show that the United States ranks below other OECD countries in mathematics and science performance of 15-year-olds, although U.S. rankings in both subjects have improved since PISA was last administered in 2015. National data from NAEP indicate that mathematics performance for fourth and eighth graders has shown no overall measurable improvement since 2007. The data also indicate that underrepresented minorities and low-SES students post persistently lower test scores. Data from ICILS show a similar pattern of assessment score disparities for minority and low-income eighth graders in computer information literacy and computational thinking. Research has shown that a variety of factors contribute to the persistently lower achievement scores observed from these students. Some of these factors include exposure to trauma, inadequate medical care, disproportionate school disciplinary practices, lack of a social safety net, and attending under-resourced schools and schools with less qualified teachers (Bowman, Comer, and Johns 2018; Carnevale et al. 2019; Hanushek et al. 2020; Pearman 2020; Reardon, Kalogrides, and Shores 2019).

Data from NTPS indicate that the majority of U.S. middle school mathematics and science teachers are credentialed and trained in the subjects that they teach. Teachers at schools with high-poverty and high-minority enrollments are less likely to have degrees in the subjects they teach and are also more likely to be new teachers. The number of students taking AP examinations has increased for all STEM subjects over the past decade, although underrepresented minorities in STEM took AP exams at rates disproportionately lower than their representation in the school population.

The data reveal that student experiences in high school matter for future STEM outcomes in postsecondary education and the workforce. Analysis of HSLS:09 data shows that students who have higher confidence in their mathematics and science ability are more likely to declare a STEM major in college. Additionally, data presented in Indicators 2020 report Elementary and Secondary Mathematics and Science Education showed that students who take certain STEM-related CTE courses earn higher wages in skilled technical jobs directly after high school.

Finally, the report discusses the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student access and learning, presenting data indicating students living in low-income households have less access to technology needed for online learning and are projected to suffer greater learning losses than students who live in higher income households. These data suggest vulnerable student populations, already at a disadvantage to other students, may be especially impacted by changes in the delivery of education as a result of the pandemic.