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NAEP Data Collection → Study Design and the Data Collection Plan

NAEP Technical DocumentationStudy Design and the Data Collection Plan


National Main Assessments

State Assessments

Trial Urban District Assessments

Long-Term Trend Assessments

Special Studies

Pilot and Field Tests

Each annual study design specifies a schedule of data collection activities and provides the basis for an operational data collection plan. Study designs identify:

NAEP assessments are administered in person to students in pencil-and-paper and computer-based testing formats by a trained administrator during the school day. NAEP questionnaires are used to obtain information regarding the characteristics of teachers and schools and the inclusion of students in the assessment. Student demographic information is obtained from schools at the time they provide their student lists for sample selection. 

Each NAEP assessment cycle includes one or more of these types of assessments:

The general structure of the data collection plan is similar regardless of the types of assessments conducted in a particular year, although there may be differences in the schedule, the staffing plan, and some procedures.

Assessments, pilot tests, and field tests are generally conducted simultaneously. Some field tests and special studies are administered separately from the assessments on a school's NAEP assessment day, while some must be administered on days other than the NAEP assessment day.

Prior to 2002, NAEP used a two-pronged approach for administering assessments: main national and long-term-trend national assessments, pilot and field tests, and special studies were directly administered by NAEP field staff, while state assessments were administered by state personnel under the oversight of NAEP field staff. Therefore, NAEP trained two different staffs with distinct missions to conduct these components: one to conduct national assessments and the other to monitor the quality of assessments being conducted by state personnel.

Provisions of Public Law 107-110 (No Child Left Behind Act of 2001) resulted in substantial changes to the conduct of assessments beginning with the 2002 assessment year. These changes are summarized as follows:

  • Mandatory Public School Participation. Any jurisdiction or local education agency receiving federal Title I funds is required to participate in a biennial state assessment of reading and mathematics at grades 4 and 8. Previously, public school participation in the state assessment was voluntary and subject to the discretion of state, district, and school personnel.


  • NAEP Administration of State Component. To reduce burden on school staff, NAEP field staff now administer the state component, thereby eliminating the two-pronged approach to assessment administration. With mandatory public school participation and NAEP staff administration of state assessments, the state and national school samples and field staff could be, and were, combined.


  • Shortened Main National Component Field Period. The assessment field period for both the main national and state assessments is designated as a six-week period extending from the last week of January through the first week of March, thereby aligning the national and state assessment periods. Previously, the national assessment was conducted during the 12 weeks between the first week of January through the last week of March.


  • NAEP State Coordinators. The legislation authorizes federally funded NAEP State Coordinator positions (one for each state plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) to coordinate NAEP activities with local education agencies and public schools.


  • Parent/Guardian Notification of Student Participation. The legislation requires that parents and/or guardians of students selected to participate in NAEP must be informed before the assessment that their child may be excused from participation for any reason, is not required to finish the assessment, and is not required to answer any test question.


  • Increased Availability of Testing Accommodations. NAEP offers testing accommodations to many students who need them to demonstrate their knowledge and ability. Learn more about the history of the NAEP inclusion policy.


In addition, NAEP has supported a study to determine the feasibility of conducting urban district assessments as a regular component in addition to the national and state components. Since 2002, the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) program has been administered in select large urban districts concurrently with the state component.

Learn more about the TUDA study to understand how it is integrated with NAEP.

Last updated 17 April 2017 (GF)