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Frequently Asked Questions about Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto NAEP Scales: 2005-2009

Background and Purpose of the Study

Data and Sample

Mapping of State Standards Onto the NAEP Scale


Background and Purpose of the Study

How does NAEP report on student performance?

NAEP reports student data in two ways: scale scores and achievement levels.

  • Scale scores show what students know and can do. Scores are reported on a 0-500 point scale for reading and mathematics at grades 4 and 8. Since these scales are calculated independently from each other, we cannot compare scale scores across subjects and grades.
  • Achievement levels are performance standards for what students should know and be able to do. The NAEP achievement levels Basic, Proficient, and Advanced are indicators of student performance. NAEP results are reported as percentages of students performing at or above these levels. Basic denotes partial mastery of the knowledge and skills that are fundamental to proficient work at a given grade. Proficient represents solid academic performance. Students reaching this level have demonstrated competency on challenging subject matter: Proficient is not synonymous with grade-level performance. Advanced signifies superior performance. These achievement levels are set independently for each subject and grade by the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP.

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What are the state proficiency standards?

Each state designs its own assessments, sets its state-level proficiency standards, and reports the percentages of students who meet these standards in reading and mathematics. These standards are the points on the performance scale at which students reach proficient on the state assessment. The percentage of students reaching the proficient level is used by states to report adequate yearly progress (AYP) to the U.S. Department of Education under the 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

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What are the main purposes of the mapping study?

The mapping study has three purposes:

  • To provide a common metric for comparing the rigor of different states’ standards for proficiency;
  • To provide an indicator of whether the standards changed over time; and
  • To provide a basis for comparing the progress (or lack of progress) reported by the states to the changes seen on NAEP.

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Why is NAEP used as the basis for comparison of state proficiency standards?

Each state designs its own assessment and sets its own standards for fourth- and eighth-grade reading and mathematics proficiency. Because the states use different standards for “proficiency”, state standards cannot be compared directly; they need to be placed on a common metric. NAEP provides the common metric.

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How were states compared?

States’ standards are compared using the NAEP scale equivalent score corresponding to a state’s standard.

Using the percentages of students reaching proficiency of standards of states who also participated in NAEP, a score point on NAEP scale for each state is identified. Mapping states’ proficiency standards onto a single measurement scale (in this case, NAEP) provides a basis for making comparisons of the states.

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Data and Sample

What are the data sources used for these reports?

Analyses included in the 2009 study uses the several data sources for NAEP and state assessment results for grades 4 and 8:

  • NAEP data files for the 2005, 2007, and 2009 assessments in reading and mathematics;
  • The National Longitudinal School-Level State Assessment Score Database, which included 2004-05 state assessment results for individual schools;
  • EDFacts, a U.S. Department of Education initiative that centralizes performance data supplied by K-12 state education agencies with other data assets, such as financial grant information, within the Department, which included 2006-07 and 2008-09 state assessment results for individual schools; and
  • The report also relied on a survey of state assessment programs, which was conducted to collect contextual information about the states’ assessment programs and to note changes in their assessments between the 2006-07 and 2008-09 school years.  View the results of this survey for each state.

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Are any states excluded from the mapping of 2009 state standards?

Nebraska was not included because the state did not administer a statewide assessment. No data for grade 8 mathematics were available for California because the state does not test general mathematics at this grade level.

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Why were some states not included in some analyses conducted for the mapping study?

Some states other than Nebraska and California (see above) were not included in some subjects/grades for a variety of reasons. For example, the relevant data may not have been available for the 2005, 2007, and/or 2009 assessment year within a given state, the state may not have administered an assessment in the subject area covered in the study, or significant changes may have been made in state assessments between years (therefore making it inappropriate to compare NAEP and state measures of achievement changes from 2005 to 2009 or from 2007 to 2009).

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Mapping of State Standards Onto the NAEP Scale

How should we interpret a state’s NAEP scale equivalent?

A state’s NAEP scale equivalent is the score on the NAEP scale at which the percentage of the NAEP sample in the state scoring at or above that value matches the percentage of students in the state scoring proficient or higher on the state assessment. For example, if 45 percent of students in state score at or above proficient on the state assessment, the state’s NAEP scale equivalent will be the NAEP score at which exactly 45 percent of the state’s NAEP sample scores higher.

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How do state proficiency standards relate to NAEP achievement levels?

After mapping the state proficiency standards to the NAEP scale, it was found that most states’ standards for proficiency were at or below the NAEP Basic achievement level, meaning partial mastery of fundamental skills.

The standard for proficiency may be different among states. In some states, for example, proficient may mean that a student demonstrates minimum competency. Other states may set the level for proficiency as the standard for promotion to the next grade, or as the grade-level standard. By comparison, the NAEP Proficient achievement level is defined as competency over challenging subject matter.

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Does this mapping method allow us to link individual student scores received on the state test to the NAEP scale? If not, why not?

No, student scores cannot be linked to the NAEP scale because NAEP does not generate reliable scores for individual students, only average scores for groups of students (e.g., males, females) within a jurisdiction (e.g., state, district).

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Last updated 07 September 2011 (EP)
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National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
U.S. Department of Education