I have been told that the level of knowledge in mathematics is much lower today than twenty or fifty years ago. Is it true?

I'm looking for statistics that present the level of knowledge in mathematics of teenagers (or slightly older) versus time (year) in different countries in Europe and/or North America.

Please make sure to give information about the test used to measure knowledge.

A source with easily handling (easy to graph) statistics would be very welcome!

  • 1
    Please let me know why this question has been downvoted so that I can improve it.
    – Remi.b
    Jan 1, 2014 at 14:30
  • 2
    @denten Remi.b doesn't need to; the claim is notable.
    – user5582
    Jan 1, 2014 at 20:59
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    There is no burden on the asker to provide evidence of notability. All that matters is whether the claim is notable, and this claim is.
    – user5582
    Jan 1, 2014 at 22:23
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    I've heard this claimed, usually in blogs critical of current educational systems used to teach math (which, having seen them, I agree are abysmal, but that's beside the point). I've never that I can remember seen scientific studies linked from such blogs though, only other blogs and political flyers.
    – jwenting
    Jan 2, 2014 at 5:29
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    A good answer here would need to deal with the issue of sampling bias of the old tests -- that is, are today's standardized math tests given to ALL students and for the most part we expect everybody to finish high school and be college-ready, whereas 50 years ago (though perhaps not 20 years ago) only those of very high ability and inclination would still be in school in upper grades, and so the tests would have excluded kids not on a college-bound path. Jan 2, 2014 at 19:49

1 Answer 1


Concerning the United States, the publication Reading and Mathematics Score Trends gives data for 1973-2012.

See especially figure 2.

The national trend in mathematics achievement shows improvement at ages 9 and 13, but not at age 17, between the early 1970s and 2012. The average scores for 9- and 13-year-olds in 2012 were higher than those in 1973 (25 and 19 points higher, respectively), but the average score for 17-year-olds in 2012 (306) was not measurably different from the score in 1973.

This study is by the National Assessment of Educational Progress , a US government program created in the 1960s specifically to determine the type of information asked for by the OP.

  • So more of a plateau than a decrease? Jan 5, 2017 at 17:55
  • @called2voyage increase or plateau, depending upon age and ethnicity, but no decrease.
    – DavePhD
    Jan 5, 2017 at 18:04
  • Calculators are making us dumb. Feb 28, 2017 at 6:48

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