The instruments used in the NAEP U.S. history assessment are composed of blocks of cognitive items from the previous NAEP assessment, as well as blocks that are newly developed for the current assessment. Administering the same blocks of items across years allows for the reporting of trends in U.S. history performance. At the same time, developing new sets of items makes it possible to release some items for public use. In some assessment years, one or more blocks at each grade are released to the public and can be accessed via the NAEP Questions Tool.
The NAEP U.S. history framework guides the item development efforts. Items are written by the NAEP item development staff, members of the U.S. History Assessment Standing Committee (see the current committee members), and elementary, secondary, and postsecondary teachers around the country. All assessment materials are reviewed by specialists in U.S. history education, measurement, assessment development, and bias. The cognitive items are assembled into 25-minute blocks, with one 50-minute block at grade 12. The blocks contain a range of questions covering four historical themes:
Democracy—change and continuity in American democracy: ideas, institutions, practices, and controversies;
Cultures—the gathering and interactions of peoples, cultures, and ideas;
Technology—economic and technological changes and their relation to society, ideas, and the environment; and
World Role—the changing role of America in the world.
Following approval from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the blocks are assembled into booklets and shipped to schools for the administration of the assessment.