Similar to the 1988 legislation that created the National Assessment Governing Board, the more recent 2001 Education Sciences Act reauthorized the Board to continue its work, setting “appropriate student achievement levels for each grade… for each subject area” that NAEP measures [P.L . 107-279, Title III, Section 303(e)]. This legislation, the No Child Left Behind Act, also known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress Authorization Act, reaffirmed many of the the Board’s statutory responsibilities, including developing achievement levels that are consistent with relevant, widely accepted professional assessment standards and based on the appropriate level of subject matter knowledge for grade levels to be assessed. Legislation also specified that the levels “shall be used on a trial basis . . . and updated as appropriate.”
To follow this directive and achieve the mandate of the 2001 statute to “improve the form, content, use, and reporting of results,” [P.L. 100-297, Title III, Section 302(e)1I] the Board undertook the development of student performance standards, called achievement levels. Achievement levels are the primary way of reporting NAEP results, and identify what students know and should be able to do at various points on the NAEP scale.
The Board defined three achievement levels for each grade:
Initial policy definitions of these trial achievement levels guided the development of the achievement levels used in all NAEP subject areas. As provided by law, the achievement levels are to be used on a trial basis and should be interpreted with caution. However, both NCES and the Board believe that these performance standards are useful for understanding trends in student achievement. The achievement levels for each subject area were adopted by the Board based on a standard-setting process that involved a cross-section of educators and interested citizens from across the nation as panelists. The panelists were asked to judge what students should know and be able to do relative to the body of content in the assessment framework for a given subject area. Details of the process used for setting achievement levels within each subject area are described separately. The results of the achievement-level-setting process, after the Board’s approval, became a set of achievement level cut scores for each subject area scale. The cut scores are the scores that define the boundaries between below Basic,Basic,Proficient, andAdvanced performance levels at each grade.