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Writing Assessment

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) writing assessment measures how well America’s students are writing—one of the most important skills that young people can acquire and develop throughout their lives. Reflecting current practice and recognizing the impact of communication technologies on the way students compose their writing, the first NAEP computer-based assessment in writing was administered in 2011 for students in grades 8 and 12. Results are reported on a national level at both grades and on the state level for grade 8 only. The most recent writing assessment was given in 2017 to approximately 23,900 students in grade 4 and 23,200 students in grade 8. Results of the 2017 writing assessment will be published in late 2018.

2011 Writing

Assessment Content

The 2011 writing assessment was the first NAEP writing computer-based assessment (WCBA) and was developed under a new framework. This framework recognizes the significant role that computers play in the writing process and organizes writing content into three communication categories: to persuade, in order to change the reader’s point of view or affect the reader’s action; to explain, in order to expand the reader’s understanding; and to convey experience (real or imagined), in order to communicate individual and imagined experiences to others. The framework also outlines what writing knowledge and skills students should have to reach Basic, Proficient, and Advanced achievement.  Survey questionnaires, administered to students, teachers, and school administrators who participate in a writing assessment, are used to collect and report contextual information about students’ learning experience in and out of the classroom.

How is Your State or District Performing?

In 2007, in addition to assessing a national sample of students, NAEP examined the writing performance of eighth-grade students in 45 states and the Department of Defense Education Activity schools, as well as in 10 urban districts. See snapshots of individual state and district performance in 2007 writing:

How Writing Results are Reported

Student performance on the NAEP writing assessment is presented in two ways: scale scores and achievement levels.

  • Scale scores represent the average performance of students who took the writing assessment. Scores are aggregated and reported for the nation, states, and districts as well as and groups of students based on gender, race/ethnicity, etc.
  • Achievement levels are performance standards that describe what students should know and be able to do. Results are reported as percentages of students performing at or above three achievement levels (e.g., Basic, Proficient, and Advanced) that are defined in the assessment framework. Students performing at or above the Proficient level on NAEP assessments demonstrate solid academic performance and competency over challenging subject matter. Note that the NAEP Proficient achievement level does not represent grade level proficiency as determined by other assessment standards (e.g., state or district assessments).

Item maps illustrate how specific writing knowledge and skills correspond to different NAEP achievement levels. Item maps answer the question, “What assessment questions were likely to be answered correctly by students performing at the Basic, Proficient, and Advanced achievement levels?”

How To Interpret Writing Results

Find out how to interpret the results of the writing assessment, including the potential effects of exclusion on assessment results.

Learn More



Last updated 12 June 2018 (AA)