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​NAEP and State Assessments

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and state assessments are both used to measure the academic progress of the nation’s students. NAEP is a congressionally-mandated program administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and state assessments are developed and administered according to each state's standards.

Under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Reauthorization of 2001 and continuing with Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015, state applications for Title I funds must include an assurance that states will participate in the biennial NAEP mathematics and reading assessments at grades 4 and 8 and that state results will be reported.

State assessments vary in content, so direct state-to-state comparisons are not possible. Since the same NAEP assessments are administered in every participating state, NAEP functions as a common yardstick for measuring student progress, making state comparisons possible.

While NAEP and state assessments may differ in scope and content, both can be used to assess progress and develop ways to improve education in the United States. Download a PDFClick to open pdf. to see an infographic illustrating differences in scope and content.

Comparing NAEP and State Assessments


Outlined archery target with arrow

NAEP and state assessments differ in purpose, including what each assessment is designed to measure, whether or not contextual data about student learning experience outside of the classroom are collected, and whether each assessment must comply with other standards.

See how the purpose of NAEP and state assessments compares.


  • Measures what the nation’s students know and can do in various subjects
  • Provides a common yardstick for states to measure student progress and gathers contextual information about students' educational experiences
  • Designed to measure content frameworks developed by the National Assessment Governing Board, an independent, bipartisan organization

State Assessments

  • Measure students' progress toward required knowledge and skills as set and defined by each state's content standards
  • Comply with annual assessment requirements in reading/language arts and mathematics and periodic assessments in science


Outlined student raising hand at desk

NAEP and state assessments differ in participation, including whether the participants are all students or a representation of students, the range of accommodations offered for students with disabilities and English learners, and whether or not the assessment is required or voluntary.

See how participation in NAEP and state assessments compares.


  • A nationally representative sample of students in grades 4, 8, and 12 is asked to participate
  • Student participation is voluntary, but highly encouraged
  • Allows a broad range of accommodations for students with disabilities and English learners

State Assessments

  • Participation may be required for all students in public schools
  • Offer accommodations and modified assessments for students with disabilities and English learners


Outlined notepad with pen

NAEP and state assessments differ in how they are administered to students on assessment day. Differences include who administers the assessment, the length of time an assessment requires, the range of days during which an assessment is administered (whether the assessment is given on the same day or across multiple days), and the format of the assessment itself (whether it is digital or paper). See how the administration of NAEP and state assessments compares.


  • Assessments are administered in 90-120 minutes by NAEP staff on NAEP-provided equipment on one day
  • Administered digitally, either on tablets or laptops, or in paper-and-pencil format

State Assessments

  • Assessments range from being administered in a few hours to over the course of multiple days

Results and Uses

Outlined report

NAEP and state assessments differ in the results reported and the way those results are used by policymakers and educators. Differences include whether results are reported for individual students and schools or demographic groups, whether or not results are used to set state policy and curriculum, what the assessment is evaluating, and whether the results are used as a measure of accountability of specific school, student, district, and teacher instruction and performance. See how the results and uses of NAEP and state assessments compare.


  • Administered digitally or in paper-and-pencil format
  • Evaluates trends in student achievement over time by demographic groups for the nation, state, and some urban districts
  • Used by policymakers, educators, media, and the assessment community to develop ways to improve and report on education

State Assessments

  • Results are not reported for individual students or schools
  • Report state, district, school, and individual student results
  • Used to set state education policy, examine school and group performance, and make local decisions about curriculum instruction
  • May be used as a measure of accountability for districts, schools, teachers, and students​

Last updated 17 October 2023 (MB)