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NAEP Technical DocumentationReading Achievement Levels

The process of developing achievement levels involves the judgments of informed, well-qualified people from throughout the nation and its territories. Approximately 20 persons served on each of three grade level panels to develop NAEP reading achievement levels. These 60 people included teachers (about 55 percent), other educators (about 15 percent), and members of the general public (about 30 percent). To the extent possible, the panels were proportionally representative of the nation's population with respect to region, race/ethnicity, and gender.

The panels for reading were convened in August 1992, and the National Assessment Governing Board set the reading NAEP achievement levels in May 1993. The achievement levels set for the reading assessment were used in reporting results for the 1992 assessment through the 2007 assessment. When the Board developed the new reading framework for the 2009 assessment, it also developed a new set of reading achievement level descriptions. These achievement levels will be used until the Board determines that a new framework is needed to guide the development of the assessment. At that time, new achievement levels may be developed and set.

Results from special analyses determined the 2009 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 achievement levels developed for the 2009 assessment use the same cut points on the NAEP reading scale as the earlier achievement levels. This allows the percentage of students at each achievement level on the 2009 and subsequent assessments to be compared to earlier assessments. A summary of these special analyses and an overview of the differences between the previous framework and the 2009 framework are available at

A complete description of the reading achievement levels for grades 4, 8, and 12 is available at

NOTE: As provided by law, the achievement levels are to be used on a trial basis and should be interpreted with caution. However, both NCES and the Board believe that these performance standards are useful for understanding trends in student achievement.

Last updated 02 July 2014 (GF)