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How Results Are Reported

Subject area results in main NAEP are reported in two ways—scale scores and achievement levels—so that student performance can be more easily understood. Note that the NAEP long-term trend assessment computes different scale scores than in main NAEP, and reports performance levels to describe student performance in terms of these scores.

Because NAEP scales are developed independently for each subject, scale score and achievement level (or performance level) results cannot be compared across subjects. However, these reporting metrics greatly facilitate performance comparisons within a subject from year to year and from one group of students to another in the same grade.

After the assessment, results are reported to the public in a number of forms. Results from individual states are reported only if minimum participation requirements are met.

Reporting the Assessment—Scale Scores and Achievement Levels

NAEP Scale Scores

The results of student performance on NAEP assessments are presented in two ways: as average scores on the NAEP subject scale and as the percentages of students attaining NAEP achievement levels. The average scale scores represent how students performed on the assessment. NAEP subject area scales typically range from 0 to 500. The achievement levels represent how that performance measured up against set expectations for achievement. Thus, the average scale scores represent what students know and can do, while the achievement-level results indicate the degree to which student performance meets expectations of what they should know and be able to do.

Note that scale scores in the long-term trend assessments use different scales than in main NAEP. See more differences between long-term trend and main NAEP.

NAEP Achievement Levels

Since 1990, the National Assessment Governing Board has developed the NAEP achievement levels with a broadly representative panel of teachers, education specialists, and members of the general public. There are three achievement levels for each grade assessed by NAEP: Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. The following definitions apply to all subjects and all grades assessed by NAEP.

Achievement Level Policy Definitions
Basic This level denotes partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade.
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.

See more detailed achievement level overviews for each main NAEP subject, with achievement level cut scores for each grade.

Find more information about the long-term trend performance levels.

Statistical Significance

Tests for statistical significance indicate whether observed differences between assessment results occur because of sampling error or chance. Results that are not "significant" should be ignored because they do not reflect real differences. "Significance" here does not imply any judgment about absolute magnitude or educational relevance. It refers only to the statistical nature of the difference and identifies statistically dependable population differences within the results that can be used to help inform dialogue among policymakers, educators, and the public.

When NAEP results are reported, only the results that are significantly different are discussed—for instance, if we were to say "higher percentages of eighth-graders performed at or above Basic in 2009 than in all previous assessments," significance testing allows us to say this.

For more information on significance testing in NAEP, see the technical documentation on this topic.


NAEP Reporting Groups

NAEP results are provided for groups of students defined by shared characteristics—gender, race/ethnicity, eligibility for free/reduced-price school lunch, students with disabilities, and students identified as English language learners. Based on participation rate criteria, results are reported for subpopulations only when sufficient numbers of students and adequate school representation are present.  The minimum requirement is at least 62 students in a particular group from at least five primary sampling units (PSUs). Learn more about this reporting requirement.

Explanations of each NAEP reporting group are presented below.


Results are reported separately for males and females.


In order to allow comparisons across years, assessment results presented are based on school-reported information for six mutually exclusive categories of race/ethnicity: White, Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian (including Alaska Native), and Other. Students who identified with more than one of the first five categories or had a background other than the ones listed were categorized as Other.

In all NAEP assessments, data about student race/ethnicity is collected from two sources: school records and student self-reports. Before 2002, NAEP used students self-reports of their race and ethnicity on a questionnaire as the source of race/ethnicity data. In 2002, it was decided that NAEP would use school records as the source of information about students' race/ethnicity, with student self-reports used only if school data are missing.

Prior to 2011, the student race/ethnicity was obtained from school records and reported for the six mutually exclusive categories shown below:

  • White
  • Black
  • Hispanic
  • Asian/Pacific Islander
  • American Indian/Alaska Native
  • Other or unclassified

Students who identified with more than one of the other five categories were classified as “other” and were included as part of the "unclassified" category along with students who had a background other than the ones listed or whose race/ethnicity could not be determined.

In compliance with new standards from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget for collecting and reporting data on race/ethnicity, additional information was collected in 2011 so that results could be reported separately for Asian students, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander students, and students identifying with two or more races. Beginning in 2011, all of the students participating in NAEP were identified as one of the seven racial/ethnic categories listed below:

  • White
  • Black or African American
  • Hispanic
  • Asian
  • Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander
  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • Two or more races

As in earlier years, students identified as Hispanic were classified as Hispanic in 2011 even if they were also identified with another racial/ethnic group. Students who identified with two or more of the other racial/ethnic groups (e.g., White and Black) would have been classified as “other” and reported as part of the "unclassified" category prior to 2011, and classified as “two or more races” in 2011.

When comparing the results for racial/ethnic groups from 2011 to earlier assessment years, the 2011 data for Asian and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander students were combined into a single Asian/Pacific Islander category. Information based on student self-reported race/ethnicity will continue to be reported in the NAEP Data Explorer.

Eligibility for Free/Reduced-Price School Lunch

NAEP first began collecting data in 1996 on eligibility for the Department of Agriculture's National School Lunch Program (NSLP) as an indicator of poverty. Based on available school records, students were classified as either currently eligible for the free/reduced-price school lunch or not eligible. Eligibility for free and reduced-price lunches is determined by students' family income in relation to the federally established poverty level. Find more information about NSLP eligibility thresholds.

If school records were not available for the student, the student was classified as "Information not available." If the school did not participate in the program, all students in that school were classified as "Information not available."

Student with Disabilities (SD)

Results are reported for students who were identified by school records as having a disability. A student with a disability (SD) may need specially designed instruction to meet his or her learning goals. A student with a disability will usually have an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which guides his or her special education instruction. Students with disabilities are often referred to as special education students and may be classified by their schools as learning disabled (LD) or emotionally disturbed (ED).

English Language Learners (ELL)

Results are reported for students who were identified by school records as being English language learners. {Note that ELL students were previously referred to as limited English proficient (LEP) students.}

Type of School

The national results are based on a representative sample of students in both public schools and nonpublic schools. Results are reported for public schools, Catholic schools, other private schools, Bureau of Indian Affairs schools, and Department of Defense schools. The state results are based on public school students only.

Type of Location

NAEP results are reported for four mutually exclusive types of school location: city, suburb, town, and rural. The four categories are based on standard definitions established by the Federal Office of Management and Budget using population and geographic information from the U.S. Census Bureau. Schools are assigned to these categories in the NCES Common Core of Data based on their physical address. The classification system was revised for 2007 and 2009; therefore, trend comparisons to previous years are not available.

Each location type has three subcategories. For city and suburb, these are gradations of size—large, midsize, or small. Towns and rural areas are distinguished by their distance from an urbanized area. They can be classified as fringe, distant, or remote.


Prior to 2003, NAEP results were reported for four NAEP-defined regions of the nation: Northeast, Southeast, Central, and West. As of 2003, NAEP analysis and reports have used the U.S. Census Bureau's definition of "region." The four regions defined by the U.S. Census Bureau are Northeast, South, Midwest, and West. For information about which states fall within each regional category, see the glossary entry for region.

Parental Education

Parents' highest level of education is defined by the highest level reported by eighth-graders and twelfth-graders for either parent. Fourth-graders are not asked to indicate their parents' highest level of education because their responses in previous studies were highly variable, and a large percentage of them chose the "I don't know" option.

Cautions in Interpretation

Users of NAEP results are cautioned against interpreting NAEP results in a causal sense, as there are many variables that can influence students' academic performance. Learn more about important cautions to consider when interpreting NAEP data.


Last updated 12 July 2012 (NB)