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James Woodworth, PhD
Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics
Due to COVID Pandemic, NCES to delay National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) assessment
November 25, 2020

Due to the impact of the COVID pandemic on school operations, it will not be possible for NCES to conduct the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments in accordance with the statutory requirements defined by the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA) which requires NAEP to be conducted in a valid and reliable manner every 2 years (20 U.S.C. 9622(b)(2)(B)).

NCES has been carefully monitoring physical attendance patterns in schools across the county. I have determined that NCES cannot at this time conduct a national-level assessment (20 U.S.C. 9622(b)(2)(A)) in a manner with sufficient validity and reliability to meet the mandate of the law. Too many students are receiving their education through distance learning or are physically attending schools in locations where outside visitors to the schools are being kept at a minimum due to COVID levels. The NAEP assessments are a key indicator of educational progress in the United States with trends going back decades. The change in operations and lack of access to students to be assessed means that NAEP will not be able to produce estimates of what students know and can do that would be comparable to either past or future national or state estimates.

How do the current COVID-19 risk levels impact the 2021 NAEP sample? NOTES: 2021 NAEP Grade 4 sampled students are shown; Grade 8 is similar. COVID-19 risk level framework from 'Harvard Global Health Institute Key Metrics for COVID suppression'. SOURCES: NAEP 2021 data collected from sampled schools, 2020-11-17; 'USAFacts: US Coronavirus Cases and Deaths - known cases', 2020-11-17.
Given COVID-19's impact, where does 2021 NAEP expect to assess sampled students? NOTES: 2021 NAEP Grade 4 sampled students are shown; Grade 8 is similar. COVID-19 risk level framework from 'Harvard Global Health Institute Key Metrics for COVID suppression'. SOURCES: NAEP 2021 data collected from sampled schools, 2020-11-17; 'USAFacts: US Coronavirus Cases and Deaths - known cases', 2020-11-17.

As Commissioner for Education Statistics, I feel it would be in the best interests of the country and keeping with the intent of ESRA (20 U.S.C. 9622(b)(2)(B)) to postpone the next NAEP collection to 2022. By postponing the collection, we are allowing time for conditions on the ground to stabilize before attempting a large-scale national assessment. Further, if we attempted to move forward with a collection in 2021 and failed to produce estimates of student performance, we would not only have spent tens of millions of dollars, but also will not by law be able to conduct the next grades four and eight reading and mathematics assessments until 2023.  By postponing to 2022, we will be more likely to get reliable national and state NAEP results closer to the statutorily prescribed timeline than if we attempt and fail to collect the data in 2021.

Additionally, delaying the next NAEP assessment to early 2022 will reduce the burden this year on schools, allowing time for the states to conduct their own state assessments this spring. To create comparable results, NAEP is conducted during the same time window across the country each time it is given. This was impractical as COVID infection rates differ greatly from state to state during any one time. NAEP also uses shared equipment and outside proctors who go into the schools to ensure a consistent assessment experience across the nation. I was obviously concerned about sending outsiders into schools and possibly increasing the risk of COVID transmission.

State assessments, however, generally use existing school staff and equipment; thus, eliminating this additional risk associated with NAEP. Therefore, while having nationally comparable NAEP data to estimate the impact of the COVID pandemic on educational progress would be ideal but impossible, there is still an opportunity to get solid state-by-state data on the impact of COVID on student outcomes. This state-level data can serve as a bridge until Spring 2022 when NCES will likely be able to conduct the national NAEP assessment in a manner that has sufficient validity and reliability.

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