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Intended Meaning of NAEP

NAEP Achievement Levels

The primary purpose of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card, is to measure the educational achievement and progress of the nation’s students at established grades and ages in relation to the content of NAEP frameworks. NAEP results also enable comparisons of what representative students know and can do among states and jurisdictions, among various demographic groups, and over time.

Because assessment results are based on samples of students, there are a number of factors to consider when drawing conclusions about NAEP data. Guides on how to understand specific assessments (e.g. mathematics, reading, etc.) are also accessible in this section.

How Results Are Reported: Scale Scores and NAEP Achievement Levels

Student performance on NAEP assessments is presented in two ways: 

  1. Average scale scores represent how students performed on each assessment. Scores are aggregated and reported at the student group level for the nation, states, and districts. They can also be used for comparisons among states, districts, and student groups.
  2. NAEP achievement levels are performance standards that describe what students should know and be able to do. Results are reported as percentages of students performing at or above three achievement levels (NAEP Basic, NAEP Proficient, and NAEP Advanced). Students performing at or above the NAEP Proficient level on NAEP assessments demonstrate solid academic performance and competency over challenging subject matter. It should be noted that the NAEP Proficient achievement level does not represent grade level proficiency as determined by other assessment standards (e.g., state or district assessments).

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Student Groups

Results are provided for groups of students defined by shared characteristics—race/ethnicity, gender, eligibility for free/reduced-price school lunch, highest level of parental education, type of school, charter school, school location, region of the country, status as students with disabilities (SD), and/or status as English language learners (ELL).

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Sample Size and Statistical Significance

Statistical Significance

Scores among groups of students may or may not be meaningful, depending on whether or not they are statistically significant. The numbers of students who participate in an assessment determines what performance differences across years or among groups are statistically significant. As a sample size increases, smaller differences between years or groups are found to be more statistically significant than would have been detected in a smaller sample size.

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Exclusion Rates

Some SD and ELL students may be able to participate in NAEP, with or without accommodations. Others are excluded from NAEP assessments because they cannot participate with allowable accommodations. The percentage of SD and ELL students who are excluded from the NAEP assessments varies both from one jurisdiction to another and within a jurisdiction over time.

Subject-Specific Guides

Explore guides on how to understand specific assessments, by subject.


Last updated 16 April 2020 (DS)