Explore NAEP Long-Term Trends in
Reading and Mathematics
Since the 1970s, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has monitored the academic performance of 9-, 13-, and 17-year-old students with what have become known as the long-term trend (LTT) assessments. Nearly five decades of results offer an extended view of student achievement in reading and mathematics. Results in this report are based on the most recent performance of nationally representative samples of 9-year-old and 13-year-old students. Typically, the LTT assessments in reading and mathematics are also administered at age 17 during March through May but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this data collection was postponed.
Results at a Glance
The 2020 average scores in reading and mathematics for 13-year-olds were higher than the earliest assessments but declined since 2012. Scores for the lowest-performing students (at the 10th percentile) decreased from 2012 at both ages and subjects. See results for selected percentiles in reading and mathematics.
|2020 reading score compared to||2020 mathematics score compared to|
|Age 9||12 pts||22 pts|
|Age 13||3 pts||5 pts||5 pts||14 pts|
How do the Long-Term Trend Assessments Differ from Main NAEP Assessments?
The long-term trend assessments in reading and mathematics provide a more extended perspective on student performance over time with trend lines going back to the 1970s. Unlike main NAEP, which is administered to students in grades 4, 8, and 12, the LTT assessments are administered to students sampled by age. Read more about the differences between long-term trend and main NAEP assessments. In addition, the assessment instruments are less frequently updated to reflect changes in curriculum and the assessments remain paper-based. The LTT assessments were last updated in 2004 to better align the assessments with more current practices. Consequently, both the original and revised assessment formats were administered in 2004. Read more about the assessment format and changes to LTT.
It should be noted that the LTT assessments are different from the main NAEP assessments in reading and mathematics. Because the instruments and methodologies of the two assessment programs—LTT and main NAEP—are different, direct comparisons between the long-term trend results presented in this report and the main assessment results presented in other main NAEP reports are not possible.
How did students perform on the Long-Term Trend Reading Assessment?
The overall national trend in reading shows improvement at ages 9 and 13 in comparison to the first LTT reading assessment in 1971. The average reading score for 9-year-old students was 12 points higher in 2020 than in 1971, but not significantly different from the average score in 2012. Thirteen-year-olds scored higher in 2020 with a 5-point gain from 1971, but lower in comparison to 2012.
In comparison to scores in 1971, the 2020 scores in reading were higher at all selected percentiles (10th, 25th, 50th, 75th, and 90th)—with one exception: the reading score for the lowest-performing 13-year-old students at the 10th percentile was not significantly different from that in 1971. Compared to the previous LTT assessments in 2012, the 2020 reading scores for both 9- and 13-year-olds performing at the 10th percentile were lower. See full percentile results for reading.
How did students perform on the Long-Term Trend Mathematics Assessment?
The overall national trend in mathematics shows improvement for 9-year-old and 13-year-old students in comparison to 1973. The average mathematics score for 9-year-old students was 22 points higher in 2020 than in 1973, and the score for 13-year-olds was 14 points higher. The 2020 average mathematics score at age 13 was lower in comparison to 2012, but there was no significant change in the 2020 average score for 9-year-olds since 2012.
Average mathematics scores for 1973 are available below. Given the limited number of questions in common between 1973 and subsequent assessments, the report features data from 1978 through 2020. See the About page for further explanation about the extrapolated results from 1973.
In comparison to scores in 1978, the 2020 scores in mathematics were higher at all selected percentiles (10th, 25th, 50th, 75th, and 90th). Compared to 2012, mathematics scores were lower in 2020 for 9-year-olds at the 10th and 25th percentiles and lower for 13-year-olds performing at the 10th, 25th, and 50th percentiles. See full percentile results for mathematics.
Key Long-Term Trend Results for Reading and Mathematics
- Average scores for 13-year-olds in both reading and mathematics were lower in 2020 compared to the last LTT assessments in 2012; however, scores for 13-year-olds were higher in comparison to 1971 for reading and to 1973 for mathematics, the first assessment years for each subject.
- The 2020 average scores in both reading and mathematics were higher for White, Black, and Hispanic 9- and 13-year-old students compared to the scores in the 1970s. Compared to 2012, the 2020 reading scores for these groups were not significantly different. Compared to 2012, the 2020 mathematics scores for White, Black, and Hispanic 9-year-old students and for White 13-year-old students were not significantly different while the mathematics scores for Black and Hispanic 13-year-old students were lower. See full student group results for reading and for mathematics.
- The White−Black score gap in average reading scores has narrowed compared to 1971 and the White−Hispanic score gap in average reading scores has narrowed compared to 1975 for both 9- and 13-year-old students. See full student groups score gap results for reading.
- Compared to 1978, the White−Black score gap in the average mathematics score has narrowed for both 9- and 13-year-old students, and the White−Hispanic score gap has narrowed for 13-year-olds. See full student groups score gap results for mathematics.
- In comparison to scores in the 1970s, the 2020 scores in reading and mathematics were higher at all selected percentiles (10th, 25th, 50th, 75th, and 90th)—with one exception: the reading score for the lowest-performing 13-year-old students at the 10th percentile was not significantly different from that in 1971.
- Compared to the previous LTT assessments in 2012, the 2020 reading scores for both 9- and 13-year-olds performing at the 10th percentile were lower. In mathematics, scores were lower in 2020 for 9-year-olds at the 10th and 25th percentiles and lower for 13-year-olds performing at the 10th, 25th, and 50th percentiles compared to scores in 2012. See full percentile results for reading and mathematics.
- Smaller percentages of 9- and 13-year-old students reported reading for fun on their own time almost every day in 2020 compared to the previous long-term trend assessment in 2012. During the same time period, larger percentages of 9- and 13-year-old students in 2020 reported that they never or hardly ever read for fun on their own time. See more reading survey questionnaire results.
- Comparing 1986 to 2012, the percentage of 13-year-olds taking algebra increased from 16 to 34 percent, and the percentage taking pre-algebra increased from 19 to 29 percent. Compared to 2012, however, these percentages decreased in 2020 to 25 percent taking algebra (a 9-percentage-point decrease) and 23 percent taking pre-algebra (a 7-percentage-point decrease). See more mathematics survey questionnaire results.
Demographic changes in the student population
The demographic makeup of the United States' student population has changed considerably compared to the first NAEP long-term trend assessments in the 1970s. For example, the proportion of Hispanic 13-year-olds increased from 6 percent in 1978 to 29 percent in 2020, while the proportion of White 13-year-olds decreased from 80 percent to 46 percent over the same time period. The proportion of 13-year-old students who indicated that at least one parent graduated from college increased from 26 percent in 1978 to 53 percent in 2020. In comparison to 2012, the percentage of White 13-year-olds decreased and the percentage of Hispanic 13-year-olds increased in 2020.
Demographic results are provided for all of the subject/age combinations in the Student Group Scores and Score Gaps section for reading and for mathematics.
Detailed Long-Term Trend Assessment Results
Review complete LTT results for reading and mathematics
The Story of NAEP
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is a continuing and nationally representative measure of trends in academic achievement of U.S. elementary and secondary students in various subjects. It is the largest continuing and nationally representative assessment of what our nation's students know and can do in select subjects. It was first administered in 1969 to measure student achievement nationally. Teachers, principals, parents, policymakers, and researchers all use NAEP results to assess progress and develop ways to improve education in the United States.