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Interpreting NAEP Arts Results

Overview of the Assessment
Reporting the Assessment
Results Are Estimates
NAEP Reporting Groups
Statistical Significance
Exclusion Rates and Assessment Results
Cautions in Interpretations

Overview of the Assessment

Nationally representative samples of schools and students participated in the 2008 NAEP arts assessment. The results of the arts assessment are based on eighth-grade students from about 260 public and private schools across the nation. Approximately 4,000 eighth-graders were assessed in music, and another 3,900 were assessed in visual arts.

The NAEP arts framework serves as the blueprint for the assessment, describing the specific knowledge and skills that should be assessed in the arts disciplines. Developed under the guidance of the National Assessment Governing Board, the framework incorporates standards and benchmarks taken from the National Standards for Arts Education and reflects the input of arts educators, artists, assessment specialists, policymakers, representatives from the business community, and members of the public.

The framework specifies that students' arts knowledge and skills be measured in four arts disciplines: dance, music, theater, and visual arts. In 2008, NAEP assessed students in music and visual arts based on a nationally representative sample of eighth-grade students. Due to budget constraints and the small percentage of schools with dance and theater programs, these two arts disciplines were not assessed in 2008. Additionally, three arts processes—creating, performing, and responding—are central to students' experiences in each of the disciplines. Again, because of budget constraints, only the responding process in music and both the responding and creating processes in visual arts were assessed in 2008.

Read more about what the arts assessment measures, how the arts assessment was developed, who took the assessment, and how the assessment was administered.

Reporting the Assessment

Because music and visual arts are two distinct disciplines, results are reported on two separate NAEP scales, each ranging from 0 to 300, and are not combined into a single arts score. Within the visual arts discipline, the results for responding and creating are also reported separately since the two processes may not draw upon the wide range of arts knowledge and skills in ways similar enough to be combined into a single score.

Because the scales for the two disciplines were developed independently, the responding results for music and visual arts cannot be compared. In addition to average responding scores, five selected percentiles show score results for students performing at lower (10th and 25th percentiles), middle (50th percentile), and higher (75th and 90th percentiles) levels on the responding scale.

Questions that required students to work with various media to create original works of visual art were used to assess the creating process. Because of the small number of these questions in the assessment, it was not possible to summarize the results using a standard NAEP scale. Instead, creating results in visual arts are presented as the average creating task score, which is expressed as the average percentage of the maximum possible score ranging from 0 to 100. The creating task score for each creating question (task) is the sum of the percentage of students receiving full credit and a fraction of the percentage of students receiving partial credit. The individual scores are then averaged together to report an average creating task score for the entire set of the visual arts creating questions. See an example of how the score was created in the technical notes of the Arts Report Card.

Although the questions in the 2008 assessment were taken from those administered in the previous arts assessment in 1997, not all of the results can be compared between the two years. Because of the length of time between the two assessments, some materials that students used to create artworks (for example, papers for collages or markers of a certain color) could no longer be obtained. Additionally, some scoring procedures for constructed-response questions could not be replicated in 2008. For these reasons, comparisons between 1997 and 2008 cannot be made for the average responding scores in music and visual arts or the average creating task scores in visual arts. However, since the scoring method was the same in 1997 and 2008 for multiple-choice questions, comparisons of the percentages of correct responses for these questions are provided for music and visual arts. It is important to note, though, that because multiple-choice questions made up only a portion of the arts assessments in both years, it would be inappropriate to make inferences about changes in students' overall performance on the entire 2008 assessment based on these results.

Item maps provide another way to interpret the responding scale scores for each of the disciplines. The item maps show student performance on NAEP music and visual arts questions at different points on their respective scales.

Arts achievement levels were developed as part of the arts framework. However, the arts assessment results were not reported in terms of the NAEP arts achievement levels. To set achievement levels for the results of any given NAEP assessment, the results of the whole assessment must be summarized together. The complex, diverse nature of the assessment tasks for the arts necessitated that different scales be used for different kinds of tasks: that is, students' written responses and responses to multiple-choice questions could not be summarized together with their responses to complex tasks where they created or performed works of art.

To view the achievement levels developed for the arts assessment, take a look at the NAEP Arts Education Assessment Framework (1.14 MB).


Results are Estimates

The average scores and percentages presented on this website are estimates because they are based on representative samples of students rather than on the entire population of students. Moreover, the collection of subject-area questions used at each grade level is but a sample of the many questions that could have been asked. As such, NAEP results are subject to a measure of uncertainty, reflected in the standard error of the estimates. The standard errors for the estimated scale scores and percentages in the figures and tables presented on this website are available in the NAEP Data Explorer.


NAEP Reporting Groups

Results are provided for groups of students defined by shared characteristics—gender, race or ethnicity, parents' education level, and type of school. Based on participation rate criteria, results are reported for groups of students only when adequate school representation and sufficient numbers of students are present. The minimum requirement is at least 62 students in a particular student group from at least five primary sampling units (PSUs). However, the data for all students, regardless of whether their group was reported separately, were included in computing overall results. Explanations of the reporting groups are presented below.


Results are reported separately for males and females. Gender was reported by the school.


Results are presented for students in different racial/ethnic groups according to the following mutually exclusive categories: White, Black, and Hispanic. Results for Asian/Pacific Islander and American Indian (including Alaska Native) students are not reported separately because there were too few students in the groups for statistical reliability. The data for all students, regardless of whether their racial/ethnic group was reported separately, were included in computing the overall national results.

Eligibility for Free/Reduced-Price School Lunch

As part of the Department of Agriculture's National School Lunch Program, schools can receive cash subsidies and donated commodities in turn for offering free or reduced-price lunches to eligible children. 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. Students whose family income is at or below 130 percent of the poverty level qualify to receive free lunch, and students whose family income is between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level qualify to receive reduced-price lunch. For the period July 1, 2006 through June 30, 2007, for a family of four, 130 percent of the poverty level was $26,000 and 185 percent was $37,000. The classification applies only to the school year when the assessment was administered (i.e., the 2006–07 school year) and is not based on eligibility in previous years. If school records were not available, 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."

Type of School

Results are reported by the type of school that the student attends—public or private. Private schools include Catholic schools and other private schools. Results for private schools are not broken down by type because of the sample size.

Type of Location

Results of the arts assessment were reported for four mutually exclusive categories of school location. These 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. The classification system is referred to as "urban-centric locale codes," which classifies territory into four major types: city, suburb, town, and rural. Each type has three subcategories. For city and suburb, these are gradations of size—large, midsize, and small. Towns and rural areas are further distinguished by their distance from an urbanized area. They can be characterized as fringe, distant, or remote.

Parents' Education Level

Students were asked to indicate the extent of schooling for each of their parents—did not finish high school, graduated from high school, had some education after high school, or graduated from college. The response indicating the highest level of education for either parent was selected for reporting.


Prior to 2003, NAEP results were reported for four NAEP-defined regions of the nation: Northeast, Southeast, Central, and West. As of 2003, to align NAEP with other federal data collections, 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. The Central region used by NAEP before 2003 contained the same states as the Midwest region defined by the U.S. Census. The former Southeast region consisted of the states in the Census-defined South minus Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Oklahoma, Texas, and the section of Virginia in the District of Columbia metropolitan area. The former West region consisted of Oklahoma, Texas, and the states in the Census-defined West. The former Northeast region consisted of the states in the Census-defined Northeast plus Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and the section of Virginia in the District of Columbia metropolitan area. The table below shows how states are subdivided into these Census regions. All 50 states and the District of Columbia are listed. Other jurisdictions, including the Department of Defense Educational Activity schools, are not assigned to any region.

States within regions of the country defined by the U.S. Census Bureau





New Hampshire
New Jersey
New York
Rhode Island

District of Columbia
North Carolina
South Carolina
West Virginia

North Dakota
South Dakota

New Mexico

Exclusion Rates and Assessment Results

Some students selected for participation in the NAEP arts assessment were identified as English language learners (ELL) or students with disabilities (SD). See tables that summarize the percentage of students identified, excluded, and assessed in arts.

For each student selected to participate in NAEP who was identified as either SD or ELL, a member of the school staff most knowledgeable about the student completed an SD/ELL questionnaire. Students with disabilities were excluded from the assessment if an IEP (individualized education program) team or equivalent group determined that the student could not participate in assessments such as NAEP; if the student's cognitive functioning was so severely impaired that he or she could not participate; or if the student's IEP required that the student be tested with an accommodation or adaptation not permitted or available in NAEP, and the student could not demonstrate his or her knowledge of the assessment subject area without that accommodation or adaptation.

A student who was identified as ELL and who was a native speaker of a language other than English was excluded if the student received instruction in the assessment subject area (e.g., reading or mathematics) primarily in English for less than three school years, including the current year, or if the student could not demonstrate his or her knowledge of reading or mathematics in English without an accommodation or adaptation.


Statistical Significance

The differences between scale scores and between percentages discussed in the results on this website take into account the standard errors associated with the estimates. Comparisons are based on statistical tests that consider both the magnitude of the difference between the group average scores or percentages and the standard errors of those statistics. Throughout the results, differences between scores or between percentages are discussed only when they are significant from a statistical perspective.

All differences reported are significant at the 0.05 level with appropriate adjustments for multiple comparisons. The term "significant" is not intended to imply a judgment about the absolute magnitude or the educational relevance of the differences. It is intended to identify statistically dependable population differences to help inform dialogue among policymakers, educators, and the public.

Cautions in Interpretations

Users of this website are cautioned against interpreting NAEP results as implying causal relationships. Inferences related to student group performance or to the effectiveness of particular classroom practices, for example, should take into consideration the many socioeconomic and educational factors that may also impact performance.

The NAEP arts scales make it possible to examine relationships between students' performance and various background factors measured by NAEP. However, a relationship that exists between achievement and another variable does not reveal its underlying cause, which may be influenced by a number of other variables. Similarly, the assessments do not reflect the influence of unmeasured variables. The results are most useful when they are considered in combination with other knowledge about the student population and the educational system, such as trends in instruction, changes in the school-age population, and societal demands and expectations.


Last updated 31 July 2012 (NB)