Skip Navigation
Skip to main content

NAEP Achievement Levels

NAEP achievement levels are intended to measure how well students' actual achievement matches the achievement desired of them in different subjects assessed by NAEP.

The National Assessment Governing Board, as directed by the NAEP legislation, has been developing achievement levels for NAEP since 1990. A broadly representative panel of teachers, education specialists, and members of the general public help define and review achievement levels. As provided by law, the achievement levels are to be used on a trial basis and should be interpreted and used with caution.

There are three achievement levels for each grade assessed by NAEP (4, 8, and 12): Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. The following definitions apply to all subjects and all grades assessed by NAEP.

Achievement Level Policy Definitions


Partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade.


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.


Superior performance.

For each grade, the levels are cumulative; that is, abilities achieved at the Proficient level presume mastery of abilities associated with the Basic level, and attainment of the Advanced level presumes mastery of both the Basic and Proficient levels. Adopting three levels of achievement for each grade signals the importance of looking at more than one standard of performance. The Board believes, however, that all students should reach the Proficient level; the Basic level is not the desired goal, but rather represents partial mastery that is a step toward Proficient.

Read more about how the NAEP achievement levels are set.

Descriptions of achievement levels in each subject

See short descriptions of achievement levels for each main NAEP subject, with achievement level cut scores:

U.S. History

The Governing Board provides reference booklets for each subject with descriptions of the NAEP achievement levels for that subject, cut scores, and sample questions with illustrations of student knowledge and skills required within each achievement level on the Achievement Level Reports page.

The NAEP assessment frameworks also offer examples of questions or tasks that students should be able to answer or perform successfully; explore these for each subject on the Frameworks and Specifications page on the Governing Board website.


Last updated 12 July 2012 (NB)