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​NAEP Technical DocumentationAchievement Levels


Civics Achievement Levels

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Technology and Engineering Literacy Achievement Levels

U.S. History Achievement Levels

Writing Achievement Levels


Similar to the 1988 legislation that created the National Assessment Governing Board, the more recent NAEP Authorization Act of 2002 reauthorized the Board to continue its work, setting “appropriate student achievement levels for each grade… for each subject area” that NAEP measures [P.L . 107-279, Title III, Section 303(e)]. This legislation, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress Authorization Act, reaffirmed many of the Board’s statutory responsibilities, including developing achievement levels that are consistent with relevant, widely accepted professional assessment standards and based on the appropriate level of subject matter knowledge for grade levels to be assessed. Legislation also specified that the levels “shall be used on a trial basis . . . and updated as appropriate.”

To follow this directive, the Board undertook the development of student performance standards, called achievement levels. Achievement levels are the primary way of reporting NAEP results, and identify what students should know and be able to do at various points on the NAEP scale.

The Board defined three achievement levels for each grade:

  • NAEP Basic denotes partial mastery of the knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at a given grade.
  • NAEP Proficient represents solid academic performance for the given grade level and competency over challenging subject matter including subject-matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real world situations, and analytical skills appropriate to the subject matter.
  • NAEP Advanced presumes mastery of both the NAEP Basic and NAEP Proficient levels and represents superior academic performance.

Initial policy definitions of these trial achievement levels guided the development of the achievement levels used in all NAEP subject areas. 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. The achievement levels for each subject area were adopted by the Board based on a standard-setting process that involved a cross-section of educators and interested citizens from across the nation as panelists. The panelists were asked to judge what students should know and be able to do relative to the body of content in the assessment framework for a given subject area. Details of the process used for setting achievement levels within each subject area are available from the National Assessment Governing Board website. Based on the results of the achievement-level-setting process, after the Board’s approval, a set of achievement-level cut scores were set for each subject area scale. The cut scores are the scores that define the boundaries between below NAEP Basic, NAEP Basic, NAEP Proficient, and NAEP Advanced performance levels at each grade.

Last updated 05 October 2023 (SK)