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Note 4: National Assessment of Educational Progress (2011)

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The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), governed by the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), is administered regularly in a number of academic subjects. Since its creation in 1969, NAEP has had two major goals: (1) to assess student performance reflecting current educational and assessment practices, and (2) to measure change in student performance reliably over time. To address these goals, NAEP conducts a main assessment and a long-term trend assessment. The two assessments are administered to separate samples of students at separate times, use separate instruments, and measure different educational content. Thus, results from the two assessments should not be directly compared.

Indicators 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14 are based on the main NAEP. Begun in 1990, the main NAEP, following the assessment framework developed by NAGB, periodically assesses students' performance in several subjects in grades 4, 8, and 12. NAGB develops the frameworks using standards developed within the field; this is a consensus process involving educators, subject-matter experts, and other interested citizens. Each round of the main NAEP includes a student assessment and background questionnaires (for the student, teacher, and school) to provide information on instructional experiences and the school environment at each grade. While NAEP assessments are not intended to reveal underlying causes for student performance, the results can be viewed in tandem with the changing composition of enrollment and trends in education policy, practice, and expectations for America's youth.

Through 1988, NAEP reported only on the academic achievement of the nation as a whole and subgroups within the population. Because the national samples were not designed to support the reporting of accurate and representative state-level results, Congress passed legislation in 1988 authorizing a voluntary Trial State Assessment (TSA). Separate representative samples of students were selected from each state or jurisdiction that agreed to participate in state NAEP. TSAs were conducted in 1990, 1992, and 1994 and were evaluated thoroughly. Beginning with the 1996 assessment, the authorizing statute no longer considered the state component to be a "trial" assessment.

A significant change to state NAEP occurred in 2001 with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also referred to as the "No Child Left Behind" legislation. This legislation requires states that receive Title I funding to participate every 2 years in state NAEP in reading and mathematics at grades 4 and 8. State participation in other state NAEP subjects, including science and writing, remains voluntary.

The assessments given in the states are exactly the same as those given nationally. The assessments follow the subject area frameworks developed by NAGB and use the latest advances in assessment methodology. State NAEP assessed students at grades 4 and 8 in 2009, and 11 states participated in a pilot-state NAEP reading and mathematics assessment at grade 12. The assessments allow states to monitor their own progress over time in the selected subject areas. They can then compare the knowledge and skills of their students with students in other states and with students across the country.

The ability of the assessments to measure change in student performance over time is sometimes limited by changes in the NAEP framework. While shorter-term trends can be measured in most of the NAEP subjects, data from different assessments are not always comparable. In cases where the framework of a given assessment changes, linking studies are generally conducted to ensure comparability over time. In 2005, NAGB revised the grade 12 mathematics framework to reflect changes in high school mathematics standards and coursework. As a result, even though many questions are repeated from previous assessments, the 2005 and 2009 mathematics results cannot be directly compared with those from previous years.

NAGB called for the development of a new mathematics framework for the 2005 assessment. The revisions made to the mathematics framework for the 2005 assessment were intended to reflect recent curricular emphases and better assess the specific objectives for students in each grade level. The revised mathematics framework focuses on two dimensions: mathematical content and cognitive demand. By considering these two dimensions for each item in the assessment, the framework ensures that NAEP assesses an appropriate balance of content, as well as a variety of ways of knowing and doing mathematics. For grades 4 and 8, comparisons over time can be made among the assessments prior to and after the implementation of the 2005 framework. In grade 12, with the implementation of the 2005 framework, the assessment included more questions on algebra, data analysis, and probability to reflect changes in high school mathematics standards and coursework. Additionally, the measurement and geometry content areas were merged. Grade 12 results could not be placed on the old NAEP scale and could not be directly compared with previous years as the assessment changed. The reporting scale for grade 12 mathematics was changed from 0–500 to 0–300. For more information regarding the 2005 framework revisions, see

In 2009, a new framework was developed for the 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-grade NAEP reading assessments. The previous framework was first implemented in 1992 and was used for each subsequent assessment from 1994 through 2007. Past NAEP practice has been to start a new trend line when a new framework is introduced.

However, special analyses were conducted in 2009 to determine if the results from the 2009 reading assessment could be compared to results from earlier years despite being based on a new framework. Both a content alignment study and a reading trend or bridge study were conducted to determine if the "new" assessment was comparable to the "old" assessment. Overall, the results of the special analyses suggested that the old and new assessments were similar in terms of their item and scale characteristics and the results they produced for important demographic groups of students. It was determined that the results of the 2009 reading assessment could still be compared to those from earlier assessment years, thereby maintaining the trend lines first established in 1992. For more information regarding the 2009 reading framework revisions, see

In 2009, a new framework was developed for the 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-grade NAEP science assessment to keep the content current with key developments in science, curriculum standards, assessments, and research. The 2009 framework, therefore, replaces the framework that was used for earlier NAEP science assessments in 1996, 2000, and 2005. Due to the change in framework, the results from the 2009 science assessment are not comparable to those from previous assessment years. The 2009 science framework organizes science content into three broad content areas, physical science, life science, and Earth and space sciences, reflecting the science curriculum students are generally exposed to in grades K–12. For more information regarding the 2009 science framework and the specific content areas, see

The main NAEP results are reported in The Condition of Education in terms of average scale scores and achievement levels. The achievement levels define what students who are performing at the Basic, Proficient, and Advanced levels of achievement should know and be able to do. NAGB establishes new achievement levels whenever a new main NAEP framework is adopted. As provided by law, NCES, upon review of congressionally mandated evaluations of NAEP, has determined that achievement levels are to be used on a trial basis and should be interpreted with caution. NAEP achievement levels have been widely used by national and state officials. The policy definitions of the achievement levels that apply across all grades and subject areas are as follows:

  • Basic: This level denotes partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade assessed.
  • Proficient: This level represents solid academic performance for each grade assessed. Students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real-world situations, and analytical skills appropriate to the subject matter.
  • Advanced: This level signifies superior performance at each grade assessed.

In indicators 10, 12, and 14, the percentage of students at or above Proficientor at or above Basic are reported. The percentage of students at or above Proficient includes students at the Proficientand Advanced achievement levels. Similarly, the percentage of students at or above Basic includes students at the Basic, Proficient, and Advancedachievement levels.

NAEP estimates that are potentially unstable (large standard error compared with the estimate) are not flagged as potentially unreliable. This practice for NAEP estimates is consistent with the current output from the NAEP online data analysis tool. The reader should always consult the appropriate standard errors when interpreting these findings. For additional information on NAEP, including technical aspects of scoring and assessment validity and more specific information on achievement levels, see

Until 1996, the main NAEP assessments excluded certain subgroups of students identified as "special needs students," that is, students with disabilities and students with limited-English-proficiency. For the 1996 and 2000 mathematics assessments and the 1998 and 2000 reading assessments, the main NAEP included a separate assessment with provisions for accommodating these students (e.g., extended time, small group testing, mathematics questions read aloud, etc.). Thus, for these years, there are results for both the unaccommodated assessment and the accommodated assessment. For the 2002, 2003, and 2005 reading assessments and the 2003 and 2005 mathematics assessments, the main NAEP did not include a separate unaccommodated assessment—only a single accommodated assessment was administered. The switch to a single accommodated assessment instrument was made after it was determined that accommodations in NAEP did not have any significant effect on student scores. Indicators 10, 11, 12, and 13 present NAEP results with and without accommodations.

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