By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) - Every couple of years, the National Assessment of Educational Progress releases a short-term snapshot of how students fare in science, civics or other subjects.
But it doesn't quite answer the big question: How are students really doing?
That's the job of a report released Thursday, "The Nation's Report Card: Trends in Academic Progress 2012." It's an assessment released every four years that tracks U.S. students' performance in reading and math since the 1970s. The 2012 assessment included more than 50,000 students from public and private schools. It tracks them at ages 9, 13 and 17, regardless of grade level, and compares their performance using tests - mostly multiple-choice questions - that take about an hour to complete.
Here are five things to know about academic progress since the 1970s, according to the 2012 report.
9-year-olds and 13-year-olds outscore 1970s counterparts
Indeed, those kids scored higher in reading and math. In reading, 9-year-olds and 13-year-olds improved at every level, so even the lowest-performing kids now are ahead of the lowest-performing kids then. In fact, kids in the low and middle range showed the greatest gains.
17-year-olds? Not so much
Seventeen-year-old students aren't scoring better in reading and math, but their scores aren't falling, either. In reading, the lowest-performing 17-year-olds made gains since the 1970s, as did lower- and middle-performing 17-year-olds in math. But scores overall are about the same as in the early 1970s - and that might not be all bad. In a conference call with reporters, Peggy Carr, associate commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics' assessment division, pointed out that there are far fewer dropouts than in the 1970s; even with more kids in school, performance has remained steady.
Editor's note: Lauren E. Bohn is a multiplatform journalist and assistant editor of the Cairo Review whose reporting is made possible in part by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
Qena, Egypt (CNN) - In a deserted playground a few hundred miles south of Cairo, 13-year-old Asmaa Ashraf fiddles with a broken rusted slide. She is waiting listlessly for a lesson with her math tutor.
The bright-eyed teenager lives in a sepia-toned village in the province of Qena, a place of rural poverty and neglect. But she has big dreams about education. She wants to open a school one day.
"At my school, we'll learn," she says, brushing her hands longingly over the slide. "Teachers will show up and we'll be allowed to ask questions. We'll be allowed to draw with color."
Such aspirations, however, amount to fantasy for most youth in a country still struggling to land on its feet after being turned completely upside down.
Two and a half years after the country's uprising began, Egypt's fledgling democracy is stillborn, stubbornly stuck between its past and future. And as the government struggles to wade through the country's protracted political problems, Egypt's festering education system is orphaned - even though, with a growing youth population, it's key to the country's future.
In the World Economic Forum's latest report on global competitiveness, Egypt ranked near the bottom - 131st out of 144 countries - for quality of primary education. Egypt's literacy rate is 66%, according to a 2011 United Nations report. Meanwhile, a report by London think tank Chatham House says just $129 a year is spent on each Egyptian student; the United States, for example, spends 40 times as much.