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Educators' Frequently Asked Questions About NAEP

What do the NAEP assessments measure, and how is the content determined?

A subject-specific content framework, developed by the National Assessment Governing Board, provides the theoretical basis for each assessment, and describes the types of questions that should be included, and how they should be designed and scored. Frameworks describe a range of content and thinking skills needed by students to deal with the complex issues they encounter inside and outside their classrooms.

The NAEP framework development process ensures that they are appropriate for current educational requirements. Because the assessments must remain flexible to mirror changes in educational objectives and curricula, they must be forward-looking and responsive, balancing current teaching practices with research findings. Explore frameworks for all the subjects NAEP assesses.

What subjects are assessed by the NAEP program, and how are the subjects chosen?

Since its inception in 1969, NAEP assessments have been conducted in numerous academic subjects, including the arts, civics, economics, geography, mathematics, reading, science, U.S. history, and writing (this is now a computer-based assessment). In addition to these subjects, NAEP is developing assessments in technology and engineering literacy (TEL) and foreign language.

Since 2003, NAEP has conducted national and state assessments at least once every two years in reading and mathematics at grades 4 and 8. Results from these assessments are released six months after administration; results from the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) follow the release of state and national results by a few weeks. Results from all other subjects assessed are released about one year after administration.

Since 1988, the National Assessment Governing Board has been responsible for selecting the subject areas to be assessed. Furthermore, the Governing Board oversees creation of the frameworks that underlie the assessments and the specifications that guide the development of the assessment instruments. The framework for each subject area is determined through a collaborative development process that involves teachers, curriculum specialists, subject-matter specialists, school administrators, parents, and members of the general public.

Is information about the testing procedures available?

Yes. Detailed information about each of the assessments is available on the subject pages for each assessment. For example, to find out what the mathematics assessment measures, who was assessed, and how it was administered, explore the mathematics subject page. For more information on these procedures, there are several sections in NAEP Technical Documentation with details.

How are NAEP assessments different from state assessments?

Most state tests measure student performance on the state's own curriculum standards (i.e., what the state considers important for students to know and be able to do); NAEP measures performance on the standards set forth in the subject frameworks. State tests allow comparisons of results over time within the state, and in most cases give individual student scores so that parents can know how their student is performing; NAEP does not report scores for individual students. State tests do not provide comparisons of results with other states or the nation; because NAEP administers assessments using identical procedures across the country, NAEP scores can be compared among states and among selected urban districts. See Comparing NAEP and State Assessments for more information.


How are the results reported?

Student performance is reported in terms of two measures: average scale scores and percentages of students within three achievement levels.

Average scale scores are derived from the overall level of performance on NAEP assessment items of demographic groups of students. NAEP subject area average scale scores are typically expressed on a 0–500 (reading, mathematics, geography, and U.S. history) or a 0–300 (science, writing, arts, civics, and economics) scale. When used in conjunction with interpretive aids such as item maps, average scores provide information about what demographic groups of students in the population at grades 4, 8, or 12 know and can do.

Achievement levels are performance standards set by the National Assessment Governing Board that provide a context for interpreting student performance on NAEP, based on recommendations from panels of educators and members of the public.

The levels, which are Basic, Proficient, and Advanced, measure what students should know and be able to do at each grade assessed. To get an idea of the capabilities desired, read the detailed mathematics achievement-level or reading achievement-level descriptions by grade, with cut scores. Such descriptions are available for each of the main NAEP subjects.

NAEP provides results about subject-matter performance, instructional experiences, and school environment, and reports these results for populations of students (e.g., fourth-graders) and groups of those populations (e.g., male students or Hispanic students). NAEP is not designed to provide individual scores for the students or schools assessed.

Because NAEP scales are developed independently for each subject, scale score and achievement-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.

Why should students participate in NAEP?

The participation of each student selected is important to the success of The Nation's Report Card, because only a representative sample will allow the assessment to provide fair, accurate, and useful information on student achievement. Each student represents hundreds of students in his or her state. Without each student's participation, The Nation's Report Card would not fully represent students and schools across the country with respect to geographic location, minority enrollment, and other characteristics. Read more about the importance of full participation.

Why are NAEP results so important?

NAEP provides the common measure we need to tell us how students are performing across the United States in various subject areas. It informs us how student performance has changed over time, and allows states to compare their progress with that of other states and the nation as a whole.

As "The Nation's Report Card," NAEP must provide data that accurately represent all students. To reduce the burden of testing, NAEP selects the fewest possible schools and students that will provide an accurate picture of a state or the nation. Because of this, it is important that all students selected to participate in NAEP agree to do so.

The results are widely publicized. A state's performance is often presented in comparison with other states and the nation, as is the progress that a state makes from one assessment to another. The state board of education and the legislature use the results for planning programs to address specific needs in your state.

Are teachers required to prepare their students for NAEP?

No. Special preparation is not necessary or expected. There are no scores for individual students or schools. NAEP wants to show on average what all students and students grouped by demographic characteristics know and can do; consequently, teachers do not have an incentive to prepare students for any NAEP assessment other than to emphasize the importance of trying their best.


How much class time will be taken up on the NAEP assessment days?

NAEP assessments and questionnaires are designed so that they require only 90 minutes of testing time except in the case of computer-based assessments that require 120 minutes. Principals and teachers are asked to complete questionnaires—either online or on a paper copy—that take approximately 20 minutes. Teachers may also be asked assist with determining how their English language learners and students with disabilities will be included in NAEP.

Do students have to leave the classroom to take NAEP?

In schools where all students in the grade to be assessed are included in the assessment, NAEP is given in their classroom. In other schools, NAEP program staff work with school officials to find the most appropriate place to conduct the assessment.

Do students receive individual scores?

No. NAEP does not report individual student scores. To view your state's performance on the assessment, explore the State Profiles. Information about the performance of the participating TUDA districts is available in District Profiles. To compare NAEP performance of the states and the nation, and to see how performance gaps have changed, use State Comparisons.

What is the schedule for the NAEP assessments?

The principal of each school will be kept informed about the specific schedule for schools and students. The schedule of assessments is also kept up-to-date with current information about the NAEP assessments.


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Last updated 27 November 2012 (MS)