National Center for Education Statistics
This 140-page report from NCES tells you everything you could conceivably want to know about U.S. high-school sophomores in 2001-2, the first stage of a new multi-year longitudinal study. The data are extremely important, especially considering the nation's current obsession with high-school reform, though one wishes the government could produce them in less than three years. (The students profiled here are the class that graduated last June and are now 9-10 months beyond high school.) There is LOTS of information here, including demographics, data on school (and extracurricular) experiences, students' use of time, their "values, expectations and plans," and quite a lot about their reading and math prowess based on a specially tailored test. That test gauged reading proficiency at three different levels and math skills at five levels. The news is not good. While most tenth graders possess very basic skills, the percentage who can read at the level of "simple inference" is less than half and the fraction that can handle "intermediate level" math concepts (and formulate "multi-step solutions to word problems") is just one in five. Yet when asked about their educational aspirations, 72 percent expect to graduate from a four-year college and half expect to earn a graduate degree. Talk about a major mismatch between hope and reality. You can root around in these data to your heart's content, and I predict you will find your sense of alarm steadily rising as you do. Find it online here.