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National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)

1. Overview

Two assessments:
  • Main NAEP
  • Long-Term Trend NAEP
Three foci:
  • Main National NAEP
  • Main State NAEP
  • Trial Urban District NAEP

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is mandated by Congress to assess the educational achievement of U.S. students and monitor changes in those achievements. As the oldest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in subject areas, NAEP serves as the “Nation’s Report Card.” Main NAEP includes state and national assessments of students in grades 4, 8, and 12 in various subject areas and with varying periodicity. The Trial Urban District Assessment, or TUDA, assesses students in large urban districts at grades 4 and 8 in reading, mathematics, science, and writing. The Long–Term Trend Assessment is administered to students at ages 9, 13, and 17 in reading and mathematics and only at the national level. Results go back as far as 1971.

In 1988, Congress established the National Assessment Governing Board (referred to as the Governing Board or NAGB) to provide policy guidance for the execution of NAEP. The 26-member Governing Board is an independent, bipartisan group whose members include governors, state legislators, local and state school officials, educators, business representatives, and members of the general public. Its responsibilities include: select subject areas to be assessed; set appropriate student achievement levels; develop assessment objectives and test specifications; design the assessment methodology; and produce standards and procedures for interstate, regional, and national comparisons. NAEP is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).


To (1) monitor continuously the knowledge, skills, and performance of the nation’s children; and (2) provide objective data about student performance at the national and regional levels, the state level (since 1990), and for large urban school districts (since 2002).


NAEP comprises two separate assessments: main and long-term trend. Results for three geographic levels are reported in the main assessment: national, state and urban school district. The long-term trend assessment is conducted at the national level only. Two additional surveys, the High School Transcript Study (HSTS) and the National Indian Education Study (NIES), are conducted in conjunction with NAEP.

Since 1996, the main national and state assessments have provided accommodations for students with special needs, while the TUDA assessments have offered them since their inception. Long-term trend NAEP began offering accommodations in 2004.


National-level assessment. The main national NAEP and the long-term trend NAEP are both designed to report information for the nation and specific geographic regions of the country (Northeast, Southeast, Central, and West). However, these two assessments use separate samples of students from public and nonpublic schools: grade samples for the main national NAEP (grades 4, 8, and 12), and age samples for the long-term trend NAEP (ages 9, 13, and 17).

The test instruments for the main and long-term trend assessments are based on different frameworks; the student and teacher background questionnaires vary; and the results for the two assessments are reported separately. (See “Elementary and Secondary School Students Survey” below for the subject areas assessed.)

The assessments in the main national NAEP follow the frameworks developed by NAGB and use the latest advances in assessment methodology. The test instruments are flexible so they can be adapted to changes in curricular and educational approaches. Assessment instruments for the main NAEP reading and mathematics assessments have produced valid trend results from 1990 through 2015, except for changes introduced in 2009 in the mathematics assessment for grade 12 and the science assessment across grades. In 2005 and 2009 the Governing Board introduced changes in the NAEP mathematics framework for grade 12 in both the assessment content and administration procedures resulting in a break in trend. In 2009, a new framework was developed for science, also resulting in a break in trend. Since 2009, the mathematics, reading, science, and writing assessments were developed using the same framework, allowing the results to be compared from 2009 forward.

To reliably measure change over longer periods of time, the long-term trend NAEP must be used. Long-term trend NAEP allows measurement of trends since 1971 in reading and 1973 in mathematics.


State-level assessments. The main state NAEP was implemented in 1990 on a trial basis. Participation of the states was voluntary until 2003. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act requires states that receive Title I funding to participate in state NAEP assessments in reading and mathematics at grades 4 and 8 every two years. State participation in other state NAEP subjects (i.e., science and writing) remains voluntary. Participation is voluntary for students for all NAEP assessments. Separate representative samples of students are selected for each jurisdiction to provide that jurisdiction with reliable state-level data concerning the achievement of its students. The state assessment included nonpublic schools in 1994, 1996, and 1998. This practice ended because of low participation rates.

The Trial Urban District Assessment. The Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) began assessing performance in selected large urban districts in 2002 in reading and writing; it continued in 2003 with reading and mathematics; in 2005 with reading, mathematics, and science; in 2007 with reading, mathematics and writing; in 2009 with reading, mathematics and science; in 2011 and 2013 with reading and mathematics; and in 2015 with reading, mathematics, and science. The program retains its trial status. The first TUDA occurred in 2002 for five urban districts. Nine urban districts participated in 2003, 10 districts participated in 2005 and 2007, 18 participated in 2009 and 21 participated in 2011, 2013, and 2015. The results for these districts are for public school students only. Beginning in 2009, the TUDA results include only those charter schools that the district is accountable for. Results for these districts are also compared with results for public school students in large central cities and the nation.

Results for District of Columbia public school students, normally included with NAEP’s state assessment results, are also included in TUDA reports on mathematics for 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2015, as well as for reading for those same years plus 2002. Due to an insufficient sample size, the District of Columbia did not participate in the science assessments in 2005 and 2009, nor did it participate in the writing assessment in 2007 for the same reason.


Subjects assessed in NAEP.The primary data collected by NAEP relate to student performance and educational experience. Major assessment areas for main NAEP include reading, writing, mathematics, and science, which are assessed at the national, state, and district levels. At grades 4 and 8, mathematics and reading are assessed every two years; at grade 12, they are assessed every four years. Science and writing are assessed every four years in grades 4 and 8. Other subject areas (e.g., civics, U.S. history, geography, economics, technology and engineering literacy, and the arts) are assessed only at the national level, occur less frequently and, usually do not include all three grades.

The subjects assessed in long-term trend NAEP are mathematics and reading. Since 2004, the long-term trend assessments have been scheduled to be administered in mathematics and reading every 4 years. The most recent long-term trend assessment was conducted during the 2011-12 school year (fall for age 13; winter for age 9; spring for age 17).

Student survey questions. NAEP also asks questions about students’ characteristics, as well as questions related to the subject area and students’ motivation in completing the assessment. Information is gathered about race/ethnicity, school attendance, academic expectations, and factors related to academic performance.

School Characteristics Survey. This survey collects supplemental data about school characteristics and policies that can be used analytically to provide context for student performance issues and are completed by the principal or assistant principal. The student remains the unit of analysis. Data are collected on such topics as demographic characteristics, classroom experiences, educational support, instructional practices, school policies, students with disabilities, and English-language learners.

Teacher Questionnaire. This survey collects supplemental data from teachers whose students are respondents to the assessment. The first part of the teacher questionnaire tends to cover background and general training, and includes items concerning years of teaching experience, certifications, degrees, major and minor fields of study, course work in education, course work in specific subject areas, the amount of in-service training, the extent of control over instructional issues, and the availability of resources for the classroom. Subsequent parts of the teacher questionnaire tend to cover training in the subject area, classroom instructional information, and teacher exposure to issues related to the subject and the teaching of the subject. Teacher questionnaires are completed by teacher at grade 4 and 8. NAEP typically does not collect teacher information for grade 12.


SD/ELL Survey. This survey is completed in the main NAEP assessments (and the long-term trend NAEP since 2004) by teachers of students who are selected to participate in NAEP and who are classified as either having disabilities (SD) or as English language learners (ELL). Information is collected on the characteristics of each SD/ELL student and the reason for the SD/ELL classification, as well as whether these students receive accommodations in district or statewide tests. For SD students, questions are asked about the student’s functional grade level and special education programs. For ELL students, questions are asked about the student’s native language, time spent in special language programs, and level of English language proficiency. This survey is used to determine whether the student should take the NAEP assessment. If any doubt exists about a student’s ability to participate in the assessment, the student is included. Beginning with the 1996 assessments (2004 for long-term trend), NAEP has allowed accommodations for both SD and ELL students.

High School Transcript Study. Transcript studies have been conducted in 1987, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2005, and 2009. The studies collect information on current course offerings and course-taking patterns in the nation’s schools for high-school graduates. Transcript data can be used to show course-taking patterns across years that may be associated with proficiency in subjects assessed by NAEP. Transcripts are collected for grade 12 students in schools in the NAEP sample who graduate from the school. (For more information, see the chapter on the High School Transcript Studies.)

National Indian Education Study. The National Indian Education Study (NIES) describes the condition of education for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students in the United States. The study was conducted in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2015 by NCES on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Indian Education. After the 2011 administration of the study, NIES shifted its cycle from once every two years to once every four years. NIES is currently authorized under Executive Order 13592, “Improving American Indian and Alaska Native Educational Opportunities and Strengthening Tribal Colleges and Universities”, which was signed in 2011 to improve education efforts for AI/AN students nationwide. Prior to 2011, NIES was authorized under Executive Order 13336.

NIES has two components: an assessment component and a survey questionnaire component. The assessment component of NIES is conducted through NAEP and provides in-depth information on the academic performance of 4th– and 8th–grade AI/AN students in reading and mathematics. The survey questionnaire component of NIES allows for the description of the educational experiences of the 4th– and 8th–grade AI/AN students who participate in the NAEP assessments. The survey focuses on the integration of native language and culture into school and classroom activities. NIES collects information through questionnaires for students, teachers, and schools.


Other NAEP Special Studies.
In addition to the assessments, NAEP coordinates a number of related special studies. Such studies often involve special data collection procedures in the field, secondary analyses of NAEP results, and evaluations of various technical procedures. A full list and detailed description of each study can be found at Examples of such studies are described below.

  • Two special studies currently underway aim to understand what is feasible by way of technology-based improvements for NAEP. The 2011 Mathematics Computer Based Study (MCBS) at grade 8 was conducted in part in anticipation of the Governing Board’s 2017 date for online assessment, to inform the relative merits of static versus adaptive models for online assessment. An adaptive model has the potential to reduce measurement error, especially for higher- and lower-performing students, and to improve student engagement by administering items better tailored to students’ individual ability levels. Another, the Knowledge and Skills Appropriate (KaSA) mathematics special study, considers blocks of new items specifically developed at each grade to better measure the knowledge and skills of lower ability students while still conforming to the content distribution specifications of the NAEP mathematics framework.

  • Oral Reading Study. The NAEP 2002 Oral Reading Study looked at how well the nation’s 4th- graders can read aloud a grade-appropriate story. The assessment provided information about a student’s fluency in reading aloud and examined the relationship between oral reading accuracy, rate (or speed), fluency, and reading comprehension.

  • Technology-Based Assessment (TBA) Project. TBA was a NAEP project in 2000 to 2003 and designed to explore the use of the computer as a tool to enhance the quality and efficiency of educational assessments. TBA was designed with five components—three empirical studies (Mathematics Online, Writing Online, and Problem Solving in Technology-Rich Environment); a conceptual paper (Computerized Adaptive Testing); and an online school and teacher questionnaire segment. The key questions being considered in the three studies were: How does the method of test delivery affect the inferences that can be drawn about students’ mathematics or writing skills and do students perform differently between computer versus paper? How do different populations perform and does it vary because of the method of delivery? How are students with different levels of computer experience affected by a computer based assessment? Is the technology-based assessment more cost-effective and how might technological advances affect cost and timeliness? What are the logistical challenges of administering a NAEP assessment on computer?

  • Charter School Pilot Study. NAEP conducted a pilot study of America’s charter schools and their students as part of the 2003 NAEP assessments in reading and mathematics at the 4th-grade level. Charter schools are public schools of choice. They serve as alternatives to the regular public schools to which students are assigned. While there are many similarities between charter schools and other public schools, they do differ in some important ways, including the makeup of the student population and their location.

  • School Composition and the Black-White Achievement Gap Study. The School Composition and the Black-White Achievement Gap study was undertaken by the National Center for Education Statistics to present both descriptive and associative information on the relationships among the percentage of students in a school who were Black, the Black-White student academic performance gap, and student achievement. Data was primarily used from the NAEP 2011 mathematics grade 8 assessment.



Main NAEP assesses students at grades 4, 8, and 12 in various subject areas. Students are assessed at grades 4 and 8 in reading and mathematics every two years at both the national and state level. Similar assessments are given in science and writing approximately every four years. Grade 12 assessments are administered less frequently. Subjects other than these four are administered less frequently and at the national level only. The Trial Urban District Assessment, or TUDA, assesses students in large urban districts at grades 4 and 8 in connection with the assessments in reading, mathematics, science, and writing. The NAEP Long-Term Trend Assessment assesses students at ages 9, 13, and 17 in reading and mathematics only and only at the national level. Results go back as far as 1971.