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The NAEP Geography Achievement Levels

  • Grade 4
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 12
  • Specific definitions of the NAEP Basic, NAEP Proficient, and NAEP Advanced achievement levels for grades 4, 8, and 12 are presented in the tables that follow. The NAEP achievement levels are cumulative. Therefore, students performing at the NAEP Proficient level also display the competencies associated with the NAEP Basic level, and students at the NAEP Advanced level also demonstrate the skills and knowledge associated with both the NAEP Basic and the NAEP Proficient levels. For each NAEP achievement level listed, the scale score that corresponds to the beginning of that level is shown in parentheses.

    Find general information about NAEP achievement levels and the detailed descriptions for other NAEP subjects.

    Grade 4

    NAEP Basic

    Students should be able to use words or diagrams to define basic geography vocabulary; identify personal behaviors and perspectives related to the environment, and describe some environmental and cultural issues in their community; use visual and technology tools to access information; identify major geographic features on maps and globes; be able to read and draw simple maps, map keys, and legends; demonstrate how people depend upon, use, and adapt to the environment; and give examples of the movement of people, goods, services, and ideas from one place to another. In addition to demonstrating an understanding of how individuals are alike and different, they should demonstrate a knowledge of the ways people depend on each other.

    NAEP Proficient

    Students should be able to use fundamental geographic knowledge and vocabulary to identify basic geographic patterns and processes; describe an environmental or cultural issue from more than one perspective; and read and interpret information from visual and technological tools such as photographs, maps and globes, aerial photography, and satellite images. They should be able to use number and letter grids to plot specific locations; understand relative location terms; and sketch simple maps and describe and/or draw landscapes they have observed or studied. NAEP Proficient students should be able to illustrate how people depend upon, adapt to, and modify the environment, describe and/or illustrate geographic aspects of a region using fundamental geographic vocabulary and give reasons for current human migration; discuss the impact a location has upon cultural similarities and differences; and be able to demonstrate how an event in one location can have an impact upon another location.

    NAEP Advanced

    Students should be able to use basic geographic knowledge and vocabulary to describe global patterns and processes; describe ways individuals can protect and enhance environmental quality; describe how modifications to the environment may have a variety of consequences; explain differing perspectives that apply to local environmental or cultural issues; and demonstrate an understanding of forces that result in migration, changing demographics, and boundary changes. They should be able to solve simple problems by applying information learned through working with visual and technological tools such as aerial and other photographs, maps and globes, atlases, news media, and computers. They should be able to construct models and sketch and label maps of their own state, the United States, and the world; use them to describe and compare differences, similarities, and patterns of change in landscapes; and be able to predict the impact a change one location can have on another. They should be able to analyze the ways individuals and groups interact.

    Grade 8

    NAEP Basic

    Students should possess fundamental knowledge and vocabulary of concepts relating to patterns, relationships, distance, directions, scale, boundary, site, and situation; solve fundamental locational questions using latitude and longitude; interpret simple map scales; identify continents and their physical features, oceans, and various cities; respond accurately to descriptive questions using information obtained by use of visual and technological tools such as geographic models and/or translate that information into words; explain differences between maps and globes; and find a wide range of information using an atlas or almanac. Students should be able to recognize and illustrate the relationships that exist between humans and their environments, and provide evidence showing how physical habitat can influence human activity. They should be able to define a region and identify its distinguishing characteristics. Finally, they should be able to demonstrate how the interaction that takes place between and among regions is related to the movement of people, goods, services, and ideas.

    NAEP Proficient

    Students should possess a fundamental geographic vocabulary; understand geography's analytical concepts; solve locational questions requiring integration of information from two or more sources, such as atlases or globes; compare information presented at different scales; and identify a wide variety of physical and cultural features and describe regional patterns. Students should be able to respond accurately to interpretive questions using geography's visual and technological tools and translate that information into patterns; identify differences in map projections and select proper projections for various purposes; and develop a case study working with geography's analytical concepts. In addition, students should be able to describe the physical and cultural characteristics of places; explain how places change due to human activity; and explain and illustrate how the concept of regions can be used as a strategy for organizing and understanding Earth's surface. Students should be able to analyze and interpret databases and case studies as well as use information from maps to describe the role that regions play in influencing trade and migration patterns and cultural and political interaction.

    NAEP Advanced

    Students should have a command of extensive geographic knowledge, analytical concepts, and vocabulary; be able to analyze spatial phenomena using a variety of sources with information presented at a variety of scales and show relationships between them; and use case studies for special analysis and to develop maps and other graphics. Students should be able to identify patterns of climate, vegetation, and population across Earth's surface and interpret relationships between and among these patterns, and use one category of a map or aerial photograph to predict other features of a place such as vegetation based on climate or population density based on topographic features. Students should also be able to relate the concept of region to specific places and explain how regions change over time due to a variety of factors. They should be able to profile a region of their own design using geographic concepts, tools, and skills.

    Grade 12

    NAEP Basic

    Students should possess a knowledge of concepts and terms commonly used in physical and human geography as well as skills enabling them to employ applicable units of measurement and scale when solving simple locational problems using maps and globes. They should be able to read maps; provide examples of plains, plateaus, hills, and mountains; and locate continents, major bodies of water, and selected countries and cities. They should be able to interpret geographic data and use visual and technological tools such as charts, tables, cartograms, and graphs; know the nature of and be able to identify several basic types of map projection; understand the basic physical structure of the planet; explain and apply concepts such as continental drift and plate tectonics; and describe geography's analytical concepts using case studies. Students should have a comprehensive understanding of spatial relationships including the ability to recognize patterns that exist across Earth in terms of phenomena, including climate regions, time zones, population distributions, availability of resources, vegetation zones, and transportation and communication networks. They should be able to develop databases about specific places and provide a simple analysis about their importance.

    NAEP Proficient

    Students should have an extensive understanding and knowledge of the concepts and terminology of physical and human geography. They should be able to use geographic concepts to analyze spatial phenomena and to discuss economic, political, and social factors that define and interpret space. They should be able to do this through the interpretation of maps and other visual and technological tools, through the analysis of case studies, the utilization of databases, and the selection of appropriate research materials. Students should be able to design their own maps based on descriptive data; describe the physical and cultural attributes of major world regions; relate the spatial distribution of population to economic and environmental factors; and report both historical and contemporary events within a geographic framework using tools such as special purpose maps, and primary and secondary source materials.

    NAEP Advanced

    Students should possess a comprehensive understanding of geographic knowledge and concepts; apply this knowledge to case studies; formulate hypotheses and test geographic models that demonstrate complex relationships between physical and human phenomena; apply a wide range of map skills; develop maps using fundamental cartographic principles including translating narratives about places and events into graphic representations, and use other visual and technological tools to perform locational analysis and interpret spatial relationships. Students should also be able to undertake sophisticated analysis from aerial photographs or satellite imagery and other visuals. NAEP Advanced students should be able to develop criteria assessing issues relating to human spatial organization and environmental stability and, through research skills and the application of critical thinking strategies, identify alternative solutions. They should be able to compile databases from disparate pieces of information and from these databases develop generalizations and speculations about outcomes when data change.

    Last updated 14 April 2020 (FW)