NAEP Math and Reading Scores: 1990-2017
The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) was mandated by Congress in 1969 to monitor the knowledge, skills, and performance of the nation’s school children. One form of monitoring has been national, standardized tests in mathematics, science, reading, geography, and other subjects. In 2017, every state, the District of Columbia, and Department of Defense schools participated in the mathematics and reading exams.
NAEP uses a scale of 0 to 500 for its mathematics and reading tests. In 2017, South Carolina’s 4th grade math students ranked 42nd in the nation with an average score of 234, six points below the national average of 240. Thirty-two percent of South Carolina’s 4th graders scored at or above “Proficient,” eight points below the national average.
In the same year, 8th grade math students in South Carolina ranked 44th in the nation with an average score of 275, with 26% at or above proficiency. By comparison, the national average was 283, with 34% at or above proficiency.
In 2017, South Carolina’s 4th grade students ranked 47th in the nation in reading with an average score of 213, nine points lower than the national average. Twenty-nine percent of South Carolina’s students scored at or above proficiency, compared to 37% of students nationwide.
During the same year, South Carolina’s 8th grade students ranked 44th in the nation in reading, with an average score of 260, seven points below the national average. Thirty percent of South Carolina’s students scored at or above proficiency, compared to 36% of students nationwide.
 National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), Sep. 14, 2018. Available at https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/. Access verified Oct. 18, 2018.
 National Center for Education Statistics, “NAEP Mathematics Report Card: State Average Scores.” Available at https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/math_2017/#/states/scores?grade=4. Access verified Oct. 18, 2018.
 National Center for Education Statistics, “NAEP Reading Report Card: State Average Scores.” Available at www.nationsreportcard.gov/reading_2017/#/states/scores?grade=4. Access verified Oct. 18, 2018.
ACT Composite Scores
Since 2000, the ACT scores of South Carolina students have been stagnant, typically averaging about 1.3 below the national average.
In 2017, all 50,936 graduating high school seniors in South Carolina took the ACT. Of these, the average composite score was 18.7, the average English score was 17.5, and the average math score was 18.6. By comparison, the national composite average was 21.0. South Carolina’s composite score was the third lowest in the nation, its English score was second to last, and its math score was fourth from the bottom.
Fifty-eight percent of students taking the ACT in 2017 were core course completers—that is, they had taken at least four years of English and three years of math (algebra and higher), social sciences, and natural sciences. Of these, their composite average was 20.0, compared to a national average of 22.1 for core completers and 17.0 for state students who were not core completers.
In 2017, male students in South Carolina had higher scores in math (18.9) than females (18.5), but females had higher composite scores (18.9 v. 18.5) as well as higher scores in English (18.2 v. 16.8), reading (19.6 v. 18.7), and science (19.0 v. 18.9).
Ethnicity is a significant predictor of ACT scores in South Carolina. For reading, Asian students had the highest average score (22.1), followed by whites (21.2) and students of two or more races (19.6). By comparison, black students scored lowest (15.8), also scoring below Native Americans (17.1) and Hispanics (18.0). A similar relationship was found for math: Asians scored highest (23.2), followed by whites (20.1). Again, the scores of black students were the lowest (16.1) and were behind Native Americans (16.7) and Hispanics (17.8).
 ACT, Average ACT Scores by State: Graduating Class of 2017, and earlier reports. Available at www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/cccr2017/ACT_2017-Average_Scores_by_State.pdf. Access verified Oct. 18, 2018.
 ACT, Profile Report: Graduating Class 2017 – South Carolina. Available at www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/cccr2017/P_41_419999_S_S_N00_ACT-GCPR_South_Carolina.pdf. Access verified Oct. 18, 2018.
Public Education Spending
Inflation-Adjusted Spending Per Student in South Carolina and the United States
In the 2016-17 school year, public schools in South Carolina spent an average of $12,050 per student. This is a 2.5% increase from the inflation-adjusted amount spent in 2015-16 ($11,759). By comparison, national spending per student declined 1.1% from $12,589 to $12,450.
Despite occasional proration and income shortfalls, South Carolina’s public elementary and secondary schools have received a large increase in revenue in the past 50 years. Since 1970, inflation-adjusted spending per student in South Carolina increased 209%, compared to 140% nationally.
In the 1969-70 school year, South Carolina’s per-student outlays for K-12 public education ($3,895 in inflation-adjusted dollars) were 25% less than the national average ($5,185). By the 2016-17 school year, this gap had narrowed to 3%.
In the 2016-17 school year, 47.7% of funding for all public education in South Carolina came from state government revenue. By comparison, the national average was 45.6%.
 National Education Association, Rankings & Estimates: Rankings of the States 2017 and Estimates of School Statistics 2018 (Apr. 2018), www.nea.org/assets/docs/180413-Rankings_And_Estimates_Report_2018.pdf, and earlier editions. Access verified Oct. 24, 2018.
High School and College Graduation Rates for Population 25 Years and Older
Since 1960, the percentage of South Carolina residents age 25 and older with at least a high school diploma has almost tripled (198% gain), while the percentage of adults with at least a four-year college degree has quadrupled (317% gain). By comparison, the percentage of adults nationwide with at least a high school diploma or a college degree has risen 113% and 307%, respectively.
In 2016, South Carolina ranked 39th in the nation in both the percentage of adults age 25 and older with at least a high school diploma or its equivalent and for adults holding at least a bachelor’s degree.
The more diplomas someone holds, the greater their earning potential. According to data collected in 2017 by the U.S. Census Bureau, possessing a high school diploma raises personal income for South Carolina residents by almost $6,300 a year (to $27,178) and a bachelor’s degree by about $26,000 ($46,928).
 American Fact Finder, U.S. Census Bureau, “Percent of People 25 Years and Over Who Have Completed High School (Includes Equivalency), Table R1501.” Available at https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk. Access verified Oct. 24, 2018; and American Fact Finder, U.S. Census Bureau, “Percent of People 25 Years and Over Who Have Completed a Bachelor’s Degree, Table R1502.” Available at https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk. Access verified Oct. 24, 2018. Earlier data from U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012 (131st edition), “Table 233: Educational Attainment by State,” and earlier editions. Washington, DC, Sep. 30, 2011. Available at www.census.gov/library/publications/2011/compendia/statab/131ed/education.html. Access verified Oct. 24, 2018.
 American Fact Finder, U.S. Census Bureau, “Median Earnings in the Past 12 Months (In 2017 Inflation-Adjusted Dollars) by Sex of Educational Attainment for the Population 25 Years and Over, Table B20004.” Available at https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_17_1YR_B20004&prodType=table. Access verified Oct. 24, 2018.