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What Does the NAEP U.S. History Assessment Measure?

NAEP measures the U.S. history knowledge and skills of students in grades 4, 8, and 12. In 2022, NAEP administered the U.S. history assessment to students at grade 8. According to the U.S. History Framework PDF File (1.22 MB) developed by the National Assessment Governing Board, the assessment should be organized around three components: Themes in U.S. History, Periods of U.S. History, and Ways of Knowing and Thinking about U.S. History.

Four historical themes are the core organizing structure of the framework. The themes were intended to cover all major branches of historical study. The themes are also used to define the subscales for reporting the U.S. history assessment results; in other words, one can compare the performance among different population groups on each of the themes. The themes are as follows:

  1. Change and continuity in American democracy: ideas, institutions, events, key figures, and controversies;
  2. The gathering and interactions of peoples, cultures, and ideas;
  3. Economic and technological changes and their relation to society, ideas, and the environment; and
  4. The changing role of America in the world.

Eight chronological periods were used in developing the assessment to ensure appropriate chronological coverage. The periods focus attention on several major eras of U.S. history and overlap at times. The eight periods are as follows:

  1. Beginnings to 1607;
  2. Colonization, settlement, and communities (1607 to 1763);
  3. The Revolution and the new nation (1763 to 1815);
  4. Expansion and reform (1801 to 1861);
  5. Crisis of the Union: Civil War and Reconstruction (1850 to 1877);
  6. The development of modern America (1865 to 1920);
  7. Modern America and the World Wars (1914 to 1945); and
  8. Contemporary America (1945 to present).

The two ways of knowing and thinking about U.S. history—the cognitive dimension of the assessment—were also used as a guide to develop questions. The two cognitive domains are as follows:

  1. Historical knowledge and perspective: includes knowing and understanding people, events, concepts, themes, movements, contexts, and historical sources; sequencing events; recognizing multiple perspectives and seeing an era or movement through the eyes of different groups; and developing a general conceptualization of U.S. history.
  2. Historical analysis and interpretation: includes explaining issues, identifying historical patterns; establishing cause-and-effect relationships; finding value statements; establishing significance; applying historical knowledge; weighing evidence to draw sound conclusions; making defensible generalizations; and rendering insightful accounts of the past.

The U.S. history framework specifies the amount of assessment time to be devoted to the historical components of the assessment (historical periods and theme) and the amount of assessment time devoted to the cognitive components of the assessment (historical knowledge and perspective, and historical analysis and interpretation).

Sample Question booklets are available for download.

For more detailed information about the objectives of the U.S. history assessment, explore the U.S. History Framework PDF File (1.22 MB)

Last updated 25 April 2023 (FW)