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More About NAEP Science

The NAEP science assessment presents a broad view of what America's students know and can do in science. The 2015 assessment was administered to students in grades 4, 8, and 12. Results are reported on a national level at all three grades and on the state level at grades 4 and 8 only.

On this page, learn more about

The NAEP science framework

The National Assessment Governing Board oversees the development of NAEP frameworks that describe the specific knowledge and skills to be assessed in each subject. Frameworks incorporate ideas and input from subject area experts, school administrators, policymakers, teachers, parents, and others. The NAEP Science Framework describes the assessment content and how students' responses are evaluated. This framework shaped the 2015 science assessment.

The assessment exercises and scoring criteria were developed by a committee of content and measurement experts to capture the goals of the framework. The framework, which describes the goals of the science assessment and what kind of exercises it ought to feature, was created by the Board through a national comprehensive developmental process involving science teachers and researchers, measurement experts, policymakers, and members of the general public. The committee was instrumental in developing the assessment, guided by the framework.

The assessment was designed to measure students' knowledge of three broad content areas reflecting the science content students are generally exposed to across the K-12 curriculum:

physical science,
life science, and
Earth and space sciences.

In addition to science content, four science practices describe how students use their science knowledge by measuring what they are able to do with the science content:

identifying science principles,
using science principles,
using scientific inquiry, and
using technological design.

See What Does the NAEP Science Assessment Measure? for further information about these dimensions.

Each of the above categories—content areas and science practices—should occupy a certain proportion of the assessment, as specified in the framework; see the target and actual distribution of science questions by category.

Assessment question formats

The assessment consisted of multiple-choice and constructed-response questions. Multiple-choice questions require students to select an answer from four options, while constructed-response questions require students to write either short or extended answers.

To learn more, see questions from previous NAEP science assessments in the NAEP Questions Tool.

NAEP also gives questionnaires to teachers, students, and schools that are part of the NAEP sample. Responses to these questionnaires give NAEP information about school policies affecting science instruction, as well as information about schools' educational resources.


Number of students who took the assessment

The NAEP 2015 science assessment was conducted throughout the nation at grades 4, 8, and 12. Approximately 115,400 grade 4 students,110,900 eighth-grade students, and 11,000 twelfth-grade students participated in the science assessment. State results are available for 46 states and Department of Defense at grades 4 and 8. The following states and one jurisdiction did not participate in the 2015 NAEP science assessment at grades 4 and 8:  Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia. Only national results are available at grade 12. See details about participation rates and about  sample size and target population by state at grades 4 and 8, and nationally at grade 12.

The schools and students participating in NAEP assessments are selected to be representative of all schools nationally and of public schools at the state level.

State participation in the NAEP science assessment is voluntary. Standards established by the National Assessment Governing Board require that school participation rates for the original state/jurisdiction and district samples need to be at least 85 percent for results to be reported. The schools and students participating in NAEP assessments are selected to be representative of all schools nationally and of public schools at the state level.

The NAEP program does not, and is not designed to, report on the performance of individual students. Instead, groups of the student population from representative national samples are assessed. For example, NAEP reports results for male and female students, Black students and White students, and students in different regions of the country. Samples are selected using a complex sampling design.

Permitted accommodations

Accommodations for students with disabilities (SD) and English language learners (ELL) have been permitted beginning with the 1996 science assessment. See the types of accommodations permitted for SD and ELL students.

For more detail:

View the percentages of SD and ELL students identified, excluded, and assessed in science in grades 4 and 8 at the national and state level, and grade 12 at the national level. View the rates and use of permitted accommodations.

Assessment sample

NAEP assesses representative samples of students rather than the entire population of students. The sample selection process utilizes a probability sample design in which each school and each student has a known probability of being selected (the probabilities are proportionate to the estimated number of students in the grade assessed). Samples are selected according to a multistage design, with students drawn from within sampled public and private schools nationwide. Read details of assessment sample design in the technical documentation and see a diagram of sample selection for NAEP state assessments.

The Common Core of Data (CCD) file, a comprehensive list of operating public schools in each jurisdiction that is compiled each school year by NCES, served as the sampling frame for the selection of public schools in each state/jurisdiction.

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

Because each school that participated in the assessment, and each student assessed, represents only a portion of the larger population of interest, the results are weighted to make appropriate inferences between the student samples and the respective populations from which they are drawn. Sampling weights are adjusted 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. Read more about the technical aspects of the NAEP sample design

Additional resources

Find out more about NAEP, the nation's only ongoing assessment of what students know and can do in various subjects.

View the results of the 2015 NAEP science assessment.

Explore the most recent NAEP results in any subject on the website of The Nation’s Report Card.


Last updated 24 October 2016 (FW)