Tripartite Growth Trajectories of Reading and Math Achievement: Tracking National Academic Progress at Primary, Middle, and High School Levels

Tripartite Growth Trajectories of Reading and Math Achievement: Tracking National Academic Progress at Primary, Middle, and High School Levels

Issue/Topic: P-16 or P-20; Student Achievement
Author(s): Lee, Jaekyung
Organization(s): State University of New York at Buffalo
Publication: American Educational Research Journal
Published On: 1/1/2010

While there has been no shortage of policy and research on many issues of American students' academic performance at separate stages of development or at separate levels of the educational system, relatively few policy and research agendas have addressed cross-cutting issues among different levels. The need for more systematic research on the full course of academic transition and growth has grown from recent national education policy movements, such as P-16 initiatives.

To examine trends in American students' growth trajectories in reading and math achievement over the past three decades.


1. American students may be gaining ground at the pre/early primary school level, holding ground at the middle school level, and losing ground at the high school level.

2. The comparison of standardized reading and math gains clearly suggests that the pace of growth is faster in math than it is in reading, across the age/grade levels investigated. Decelerating rates of growth over ages/grades are very similar between the two subjects.

3. The diminishing rate of academic growth means that longer time is needed to achieve the same amount of learning gain at the higher age/grade level. It is attributable to the interaction of two underlying forces of academic growth: human development (a decreasing rate of growth in child cognitive capacity for acquiring new knowledge and skills at older ages) and curriculum development (the complexity of school curricula and instruction at the higher grades).

4.  The current generation of primary school students seems to learn faster (about a quarter of a school year in reading and a half a school year in math) than the previous generation. However, this generational learning gap diminishes by the time the students graduate from high school. American high schools take academically better-prepared students than earlier generations but fail to help them flourish much further.

Policy Implications/Recommendations:

Research Design:
Cohort analyses

K-12 student data from national databases

Year data is from:


Data Collection and Analysis:
Analysis of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data, and national norms from standardized achievement tests--Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) and TerraNova (TN)

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