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Comparing NAEP and State Assessments

NAEP is a congressionally-mandated project of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U.S. Department of Education. State assessments are developed and administered according to each state's standards.

NAEP assesses four subjects at the state level: mathematics, reading, science, and writing. As part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization in 2001, each state must administer annual assessments based on a state's academic content standards in mathematics, reading, and science at varying grade levels. Because state assessments vary in content, direct state-to-state comparisons are not possible.

The ESEA reauthorization of 2001 also requires that states receiving Title I funding participate in NAEP assessments in mathematics and reading in grades 4 and 8 every other year. Because NAEP administers the same assessments in every participating state, the NAEP assessments function as a common yardstick for measuring student progress, making state comparisons possible.

While NAEP and state assessments may differ in scope and content, both can be used to assess progress and develop ways to improve education in our nation. Below are the main features for each type of assessment.


NAEP Assessments State Assessments
  • Measure student performance nationally and report changes over time
  • Provide results for the nation, states, and some urban districts
  • Allow comparisons between states and the nation
  • Measure progress of schools, districts, and states toward adequate yearly progress (AYP) goals as required by federal law
  • Provide state, district, school, and individual student data
  • Track progress toward state education goals
  • Measure performance according to each state's content standards
  • Are developed by the National Assessment Governing Board to specify what students should know and be able to do in each content area at a given grade level
  • Are not aligned to any particular content standards
  • Reflect the knowledge and experience of subject area experts, school administrators, policymakers, teachers, parents, and others
  • Are set and defined by each state based on its content standards
  • Include input from a diverse group of stakeholders, including policymakers and educators
Achievement Levels (also referred to as "Performance Standards") 
  • Are measured according to three specified achievement levels—Basic, Proficient, and Advanced—set by the National Assessment Governing Board
  • Define Proficient  as “competency over challenging subject matter”
  • Are measured by achievement levels that are set and defined by each state individually
  • Define Proficient  as “at grade level” performance
About the Assessments
  • Include multiple-choice, short constructed-response, extended-response, and computer-based questions
  • Assess students with disabilities and English language learners based on NAEP-allowable accommodations
  • Are administered by NAEP field staff during regular school hours
  • Consist of a variety of formats, which vary by state, such as multiple-choice, constructed-response, performance events, portfolios, alternative assessments, and computer-based assessments
  • Assess students with disabilities and English language learners according to the state's accommodation policy
  • Are administered by school and district personnel during regular school hours
Assessment Participation
  • Assess representative samples of students in grades 4 and 8 from each state in reading and mathematics every other year
  • Periodically assess national and state samples of students at grades  4, 8, and 12 in other subject areas such as science and writing
  • Do not require student participation but highly encourage it
  • May exclude students with disabilities and English language learners who require test accommodations other than those allowed by NAEP
  • Assess all students in grades 3 through 8 every year in reading and mathematics
  • Assess students in grades 3 through 8 in science at least once in elementary school (3-5) and once in middle school (6-8)
  • Assess high school students at least once in reading, mathematics, and science
  • Offer alternative or modified assessments to students with disabilities and English language learners when necessary
  • Require participation by all schools
Assessment Results
  • Are used by the President, Congress, and state leaders to develop ways to develop educational improvements in the nation
  • Allow comparisons between states and the nation
  • Allow trend comparisons over time
  • Do not report performance for individual schools, students, or most school districts
  • Are used by governors, state legislatures, state leaders, and state educators to set education policy and examine school and group performance
  • Are used by teachers, parents, and other school staff to review individual student performance
  • Aid in making local decisions about curriculum and instruction
  • May also be used for promotion/retention decisions and/or graduation requirements
  • May be used to inform state accreditation decisions

For more information about NAEP assessments, read an overview, or learn about the item development process, how schools and students are selected, and how NAEP is administered.

Last updated 04 January 2010 (NB)