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What Does the NAEP Reading Assessment Measure?

Literary and Informational Texts
Cognitive Targets
The 1992–2007 Framework
Comparison of the 1992–2007 and 2009 Frameworks


The NAEP reading assessment measures the reading and comprehension skills of students in grades 4, 8, and 12 by asking them to read selected grade-appropriate passages and answer questions based on what they have read.

The National Assessment Governing Board oversees the development of NAEP frameworks, which describe the specific knowledge and skills that should be assessed. Frameworks incorporate ideas and input from subject area experts, school administrators, policymakers, teachers, parents, and other citizens. A new framework was implemented for the 2009 reading assessment, replacing the framework first used for the 1992 reading assessment and subsequent reading assessments through 2007. The framework that has guided assessment development since 2009 was used to guide development of the 2017, 2019, and 2022 digitally based assessments. Results from special analyses determined the 2009 and subsequent reading assessment results could be compared with those from earlier assessment years. These special analyses started in 2007 and included in-depth comparisons of the frameworks and the test questions, as well as a close examination of how the same students performed on the 2009 assessment and the earlier assessment.

The development of the NAEP reading framework was guided by scientifically-based reading research that defines reading as a dynamic cognitive process that allows students to

  • understand written text,
  • develop and interpret meaning, and
  • use meaning as appropriate to the type of text, purpose, and situation.

For more detailed information about the objectives of the reading assessment, explore the NAEP Reading Framework.


Literary and Informational Texts

The NAEP reading framework specifies the use of both literary and informational texts. Literary texts include three types at each grade: fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry. Informational texts include three broad categories: exposition; argumentation and persuasive text; and procedural text and documents. The inclusion of distinct text types recognizes that students read different texts for different purposes.


Cognitive Targets

The framework recommends that assessment questions be aligned to cognitive targets—mental processes or kinds of thinking that underlie reading comprehension. The targets are described below.

  • Locate and Recall: When locating or recalling information from what they have read, students may identify explicitly stated main ideas or may focus on specific elements of a story.
  • Integrate and Interpret: When integrating and interpreting what they have read, students may make comparisons, explain character motivation, or examine relations of ideas across the text.
  • Critique and Evaluate: When critiquing or evaluating what they have read, students view the text critically by examining it from numerous perspectives or may evaluate overall text quality or the effectiveness of particular aspects of the text.



The framework also calls for a systematic assessment of vocabulary. Vocabulary questions measure students' knowledge of specific words as used in the passages they are asked to read for the assessment. To answer these questions, students integrate their understanding of the word with their passage comprehension. All vocabulary questions are multiple-choice and are classified as Integrate/Interpret. Vocabulary questions appeared in two types of sections: comprehension sections and vocabulary-only sections. Two vocabulary questions appeared in the comprehension sections along with other kinds of questions; vocabulary-only sections contained five or six vocabulary questions.

See the distribution of questions in the 2022 assessment.


The 1992–2007 Framework

The 1992–2007 framework specified that the NAEP assessment should measure three contexts for reading: reading for literary experience, reading for information, and reading to perform a task (reading to perform a task at grades 8 and 12 only). In addition to reading within different contexts, NAEP reading comprehension questions were developed to engage the different approaches that readers may take in the process of trying to understand what is being read. The table below outlines the major aspects of the framework.

Three different contexts for reading were assessed: Students were assessed on four different aspects of reading:
  • Reading for literary experience: Readers explore events, characters, themes, settings, plots, actions, and the language of literary works by reading novels, short stories, poems, plays, legends, biographies, myths, and folktales.
  • Reading for information: Readers gain information to understand the world by reading materials such as magazines, newspapers, textbooks, essays, and speeches.
  • Reading to perform a task:1 Readers apply what they learn from reading materials such as bus or train schedules, directions for repairs or games, classroom procedures, tax forms (grade 12), maps, and so on.
  • Forming a general understanding:2 The reader must consider the text as a whole and provide a global understanding of it.
  • Developing interpretation: The reader must extend initial impressions to develop a more complete understanding of what was read.
  • Making reader/text connections:3 The reader must connect information in the text with knowledge and experience.
  • Examining content and structure:4 This requires critically evaluating, comparing and contrasting, and understanding the effect of such features as irony, humor, and organization.

1Reading to perform a task is not assessed at grade 4.
2This aspect of reading was formerly referred to as "Forming an initial understanding" in previous versions of the reading framework.
3This aspect of reading was formerly referred to as "Personal reflection and response" in previous versions of the reading framework.
4This aspect of reading was formerly referred to as "Demonstrating a critical stance" in previous versions of the reading framework.


Comparison of the 1992–2007 and 2009 Frameworks

The framework for the 2009 NAEP reading assessment replaced a framework developed for the 1992 assessment. Compared to the previous framework, the 2009 reading framework includes more emphasis on literary and informational texts, a redefinition of reading cognitive processes, a new systematic assessment of vocabulary knowledge, and the addition of poetry to grade 4. The table that follows outlines the differences.

 1992–2007 Reading Framework2009 Reading Framework
ContentContent of assessment:
  • Literary
  • Informational
  • Document
Contexts for reading:
  • For literary experience
  • For information
  • To perform task
Content of assessment:
  • Literary text
  • Fiction.
  • Literary nonfiction
  • Poetry
  • Informational text
  • Exposition
  • Argumentation and persuasive text.
  • Procedural text and documents
Cognitive Processes Stances/aspects of reading:
  • Forming general understanding
  • Developing interpretation
  • Making reader/text connections
  • Examining content and structure
Cognitive targets distinguished by text type:
  • Locate/recall
  • Integrate/interpret
  • Critique/evaluate
Vocabulary Vocabulary as a "target" of item development, with no information reported on students' use of vocabulary knowledge in comprehending what they readSystematic approach to vocabulary assessment with potential for a vocabulary subscore
Poetry Poetry included as stimulus material at grades 8 and 12Poetry included as stimulus material at all grades
Passage Source Use of intact, authentic stimulus materialUse of authentic stimulus material plus some flexibility in excerpting stimulus material

A 2009 reading trend study was conducted to compare results based on the 2009 and 2007 reading assessment instruments. Trend studies, also known as "bridge studies", have been used by NAEP previously to evaluate how changes to the assessment impact score comparisons.


Last updated 18 October 2022 (FW)