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About LSAY > History and Mission

In 1986, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded the Longitudinal Study of American Youth (LSAY) to examine of the development of student achievement in middle school and high school and the relationship of those patterns to career choices. The LSAY was also designed to measure student learning about science and technology that might become useful as adults in understanding public policy issues that involve scientific and technological issues.

The Original 1987 Cohorts

After a year of pilot testing of instruments, the LSAY began collecting data from a national sample of 7th and 10th grade students in 50 public school systems in the United States in the fall of 1987. During the next seven years, LSAY students were given mathematics and science achievement tests each fall and were asked to complete attitudinal and self-report questionnaires each fall and spring. One parent of each LSAY student was interviewed each spring by telephone, and all of the mathematics and science teachers who served one or more LSAY students were asked to complete a questionnaire for each course. The principal of each of the participating schools was asked to complete a school inventory and questionnaire periodically.

Although the initial middle school, high school, and college data collection focused heavily on science and mathematics achievement, the LSAY collected a wide array of personal behavior and attitude measures that are relevant to the study of the development of educational and career plans, including educational and occupational expectations and plans, parental and home background, student self-perceptions and attitudes, and student activities.

During the next several years, the data from the first cycles was analyzed and a substantial number of articles and papers were published and became of part of the scholarly literature on student learning (see the Publications section in the left tab of the LSAY homepage). During this period, all of the location information for each student was translated into geo-codes that allow the study of geographic mobility by LSAY participants.

In 2005, the NSF provided additional funding to resume data collection with LSAY participants, then approximately 31 to 34 years of age. After a short period of extensive tracking and location activity, a new cycle of LSAY data collection was launched in November of 2007. To date, nearly 4,000 of the 5,000 eligible students (an 80% response rate) have completed the baseline 2007 questionnaire, updating their educational and occupational history from high school to their early 30’s. The LSAY has continued a program of annual data collection, launching a new questionnaire each November. The 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 studies were completed and those data have been and continue to be analyzed and reported in the literature.

The 2014 7th Grade Cohort

In 2013, the National Science Foundation provided funding to initiate a new cohort of 7th grade students in public schools throughout the Unites States. The new cohort is exactly one generation younger than the 1987 cohorts and will provide useful insights into changes in American families, American education, and changes in society and technology. Referred to as Cohort 3 within the LSAY, the new group of 7th grade students are a part of Generation Y or the Millennial Generation. Although the NSF provided funding for only an initial three-year period, the senior staff has indicated an intention to continue the student in the years ahead.


The LSAY has been funded by the National Science Foundation since 1986 (NSF awards MDR 8550085, REC96-27669, RED-9909569, REC-0337487, DUE-0525357, DUE-0712842, DUE-0856695, DRL-0917535, DUE-1118625, DUE-1118626, HRD-1348619). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

We acknowledge the continuing cooperation and support of the more than 5,000 LSAY participants who have voluntarily completed questionnaires, telephone interviews, and data forms over the last 24 years and thank them for their continuing support. We also acknowledge and thank the 8,000 students in Cohort 3 who are just beginning their participation in the LSAY. Without their active involvement, the LSAY would not be possible.

We also acknowledge and thank the parents of LSAY students and the teachers, principals, and administrators in public school districts throughout the United States who contributed their time and energy to this study and who continue to do so in Cohort 3.

And, we acknowledge and thank the several hundred staff who have worked on the LSAY over the last three decades to make this study possible.