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NAEP Instruments → Cognitive Items and Instruments → Development of the Science Cognitive Items and Instruments

Development of the Science Cognitive Items and Instruments


Student Booklets for the 2005 Assessment
Student Booklets for the 2000 Assessment

Number of items by scale: 2005
Number of items by scale: 2000

Common blocks: 2005
Common blocks: 2000

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The instruments used in the NAEP science 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 science 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 science framework guides the item development efforts. Items are written by NAEP test development staff, members of the NAEP Science Committee (see the current committee members) and elementary, secondary, and postsecondary teachers around the country. All assessment materials are reviewed by specialists in science education, measurement, assessment development, and bias. The cognitive items are then assembled into 20-minute blocks at grade 4 and 30-minute blocks at grades 8 and 12.

The science assessment also includes "hands-on tasks." These tasks, introduced in the mid-1990s, probe students’ abilities to use materials to make observations, perform investigations, evaluate experimental results, and apply problem-solving skills. Approximately 30 percent of the science assessment at each grade is devoted to hands-on tasks. These performance tasks require students to conduct actual experiments using materials provided to them, and to record their observations and conclusions in their test booklets by responding to both multiple-choice and constructed-response questions. The hands-on tasks in NAEP require an additional 20 minutes at fourth grade or 30 minutes at eighth and twelfth grade.

All science blocks contain a range of questions covering three fields of science:

  • earth science,
  • physical science, and
  • life science.

Following approval from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the blocks are assembled into booklets and distributed to schools for the administration of the assessment.

Explore sample items and related student performance data from all science assessment years.

Last updated 16 February 2009 (JL)

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