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The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) provides data and results on student group achievement, group-level instructional experiences, and school environment factors. These results are reported for the nation and, for some assessments, states and participating urban districts.

Because NAEP reports group-level results, an accurate picture of student performance can be obtained by administering NAEP to a representative sample of students who reflect the student population of the nation as a whole as well as those of individual states and districts participating in the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA).

Representative Samples

NAEP assesses representative samples of students rather than the entire student population. The sample selection process utilizes a probability sample design. In this type of sample, each school and each student has a known probability of being selected. Samples are selected according to a multistage design, with students drawn from within sampled public and private schools nationwide. The school probabilities are proportional to the estimated number of students in the grade assessed.

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Sampling Frame

The Common Core of Data (CCD) file serves as the sampling frame for the selection of public schools in each state/jurisdiction. The CCD is a comprehensive list of operating public schools in each jurisdiction that is compiled each school year by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The sample of students in districts participating in TUDA represents an augmentation of the sample of students selected as part of the state samples. All students at more local geographic sampling levels also make up part of the broader samples. For example, the TUDA samples are included as part of the corresponding state samples, just as the state samples are included as part of the national sample.

The Private School Survey (PSS) is a survey of all U.S. private schools carried out biennially by the Census Bureau under contract to NCES. The PSS serves as the sampling frame for private schools. While state and district results are based on samples of public schools only, the national results are based on the combined samples of both public and private schools.

Because the schools and students who participate in the assessment represent only a portion of the larger population of interest, the assessment results are weighted to make appropriate inferences about the populations from the student, school, and district samples. Sampling weights are adjusted to account for the disproportionate representation of some groups in the selected sample. This includes oversampling of schools with high concentrations of students from certain racial/ethnic groups and the lower sampling rates of students who attend very small schools.

School Selection

  1. Identify Schools: Schools are identified based on the U.S. Department of Education's public school system database. Because national-level data on schools can be up to three years old, school data are verified with state departments of education. A national sample of nonpublic (private) schools is also selected for grades 4, 8, and 12.
  2. Classify Schools: Schools are classified into groups by type of location (city, suburb, town, or rural) and then by racial/ethnic composition. These groups are called strata. 
  3. Arrange Schools: Schools are sorted by a student achievement measure (e.g., school-level results on state achievement tests) to ensure NAEP represents all levels of school performance.
  4. List Schools: The school groupings are then placed into a comprehensive ordered list. The specific schools that comprise the sample are ordered based on location type, race/ethnicity, and student achievement.
  5. Select Schools: NCES draws a separate sample of schools from each stratum with probability proportional to school size. Small schools, high minority schools, and private schools are sampled to ensure that they are adequately represented. If the school participation rate in the sample is below 85 percent, the results cannot be reported.
  6. Confirm Schools: A list of selected schools is sent to each state department of education to confirm eligibility. School closure or no eligible students would prevent a school from being selected.

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Student Selection

Within each selected school and grade to be assessed, students are chosen at random for each subject area based on grade (4, 8, or 12) to participate in NAEP. Every student has the same chance of being chosen--regardless of race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, status as an English language learner, or any other factors.

Results are never reported for individual students. National results are reported for all assessment subjects. Mathematics, reading (and sometimes science and writing) results are also reported at the state level and for participating urban districts. Both public and private schools results are reported for the nation, but only public school results are reported at the state level.

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Subject and Item Selection

Students in a given assessment session will take a variety of different assessment forms, generally across several subjects. Individual students only complete a subset of NAEP items in a single subject area.

A technique called Balanced Incomplete Block (BIB) spiraling is used in which groups of items are systematically arranged with other groups of items within test forms to assure that the entire content domain for the subject is covered. And all items are completed by a representative sample of students, though individual students only complete a fraction of the items.

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Last updated 20 December 2018 (FC)