Elementary and secondary science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education is the foundation for students’ entry into postsecondary STEM majors as well as a wide variety of STEM occupations. Proficiency in STEM fields is vital to economic growth and international competitiveness and important for all citizens in an increasingly technology-driven society (OSTP 2019). A skilled and diverse STEM workforce is essential for the United States to remain preeminent in science and engineering (S&E) and continue to be at the forefront of innovation. (See the forthcoming Indicators 2022 report, “The STEM Labor Force of Today: Scientists, Engineers, and Skilled Technical Workers,” for information on the STEM labor force). Improving K–12 STEM education and nurturing the talents of all Americans—including women and underrepresented minorities in STEM—is key to maintaining U.S. competitiveness and strengthening and diversifying its STEM workforce (Committee on STEM Education 2018; NSB 2020). An increasingly complex technological society and such events as the COVID-19 pandemic underscore the important role that K–12 STEM education has to play in building public understanding of science and creating a scientifically literate citizenry (NASEM 2019).

This report provides the most recent available indicators of the state of U.S. K–12 STEM education. It presents data about student performance in mathematics in fourth and eighth grades; computer science performance in eighth grade; U.S. mathematics, science, and computer science performance compared with that of other nations; U.S. mathematics and science teachers’ qualifications and how they compare internationally; and high school students’ preparation for postsecondary education and the workforce.

These data indicate that K–12 STEM education in the United States continues to face many challenges. U.S. students’ scores on a standardized national assessment have remained essentially stagnant since 2007, and U.S. students rank below those of many other developed nations on international mathematics and science assessments. Black, Hispanic, American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander students, and students living in poverty continue to score well below White, Asian, and high-SES students on STEM assessments and have done so for decades. Research literature suggests that structural and systemic educational and societal inequities contribute to these achievement disparities. For example, research has shown that a variety of academic, health, and social factors (e.g., exposure to trauma, inadequate medical care, disproportionate school disciplinary practices, lack of a social safety net, or attending schools with inadequate resources or with less-qualified teachers) contribute to the persistently lower achievement scores observed from these students (Bowman, Comer, and Johns 2018; Carnevale et al. 2019; Hanushek et al. 2020; Pearman 2020; Reardon, Kalogrides, and Shores 2019).

There are four main sections in this report. The first section presents indicators of U.S. students’ performance in mathematics and science subjects in elementary and secondary school, both nationally and internationally. The second section examines U.S. middle and high school mathematics and science teachers’ qualifications and how they vary by U.S. school characteristics, including minority enrollment and students’ socioeconomic status (SES), and among nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The third section focuses on students’ transitions from high school to postsecondary education or to the workforce. It examines Advanced Placement (AP) coursetaking and dual enrollment (simultaneous enrollment in high school and college), immediate college enrollment after high school, and how high school students’ perceptions of their mathematics and science identity and ability relate to their choice of postsecondary STEM major. The final section addresses the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the U.S. education system beginning in spring 2020, when the pandemic led to a shift to distance learning for most students across the country. This section highlights the potential impact of distance education and access to technology on student learning.

Data sources are described in each section of the report. When a comparative statistic is cited, it is statistically significant at the 0.05 probability level, unless otherwise noted. The term no measurable difference indicates that a score difference was not statistically significant. When countries are ranked internationally, countries that have average scores that are not significantly different from those of the United States are given the same rank as the United States.