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Create the Assessment


The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) develops assessment items in accordance with the frameworks and specification documents finalized by the National Assessment Governing Board. The following item types are created: cogntive items and contextual questionnaires, which are administered as part of NAEP to contextualize the assessment results with student educational experiences.  

Cognitive Items

Contextual Questionnaires

  • Students (demographic characteristcs, opportunities to learn in and outside of the classroom, educational experiences)
  • Teachers (training, instructional practices)
  • Schools (policies, characteristics)

Reviewing the Item Pool

Once the item pool of cognitive and contextual qusetionnaires are created, they are then reviewed by

  • content experts and teachers for political sensitivity and bias, and
  • standing committees who assess the appropriateness, representativeness, and quality of items.

For contextual questionnaires, NCES submits them to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for clearance. OMB checks to make sure the questions comply with government policies. When developing the questionnaires, NAEP ensures that the questions are grounded in educational research and that the answers provide information relevant to the subject being assessed. The questionnaires are also designed to minimize the burden on respondents while meeting the needs of the NAEP program.

Designing the Assessment

The cognitive items are then placed in blocks, or groups of items created by dividing the item pool for an age or grade into subsets. Using the BIB spiral sample design, item blocks are then placed in a booklet, along with one-block of a student survey questionnaire. Booklets are loaded to tablets using the following process:

  1. The test developer sends assessment content (including the item blocks and appropriate block order) to the technology team.
  2. The technology team loads the image of the entire assessment (system, foundation, and content) into a software program, and a master image is created. 
  3. Finally, the image is loaded onto imaging USB drives for cloning onto thousands of tablets in preparation for the assessment.

Each sampled student will receive a booklet via their tablet: two, 30-minute cognitive item blocks, and one fifteen-minute student survey questionnaire block.

Pilot Testing

Items are then ready for pilot testing. The purpose of national-level pilot testing is to gain information about

  • item clarity,
  • item difficulty,
  • timing,
  • feasability, and
  • administration logistical considerations.

Items are revised based on student data, and the item set is once again subjected to review following the same procedure described above. Then, a final set of test items is assembled for NCES and the Governing Board review and approval. Once NCES and the Governing Board have approved, the assessment is deemed operational.

Paper-and-Pencil Assembly

For information about the past creation of items for paper-and-pencil assessments, explore our archival NAEP technical documentation about materials and processing.

Learn More

Last updated 20 December 2018 (FC)