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National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)

For more than 30 years, information on what American students know and can do has been generated by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). It is the first ongoing effort to obtain comprehensive and dependable achievement data on a national basis in a uniform and scientific manner. Commonly known as the "Nation's Report Card", NAEP is a congressionally mandated project of the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). NCES is responsible, by law, for administering the NAEP project through competitive awards to qualified organizations. The National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), appointed by the Secretary of Education but independent of the Department of Education, governs and sets policy for NAEP.

NAGB develops the frameworks that provide the theoretical basis for the assessment and specific direction for what kinds of knowledge and skills should be assessed, how the exercises should be designed, and how student responses should be scored. The frameworks are the result of comprehensive efforts in which teachers, curriculum experts, policymakers, and members of the general public worked to create a unified vision of how a particular subject ought to be assessed. This vision is based on current educational research on achievement and its measurement, and good educational practices. NAEP is a continuing, national survey of the knowledge and skills of young Americans in major learning areas taught in schools.

The purpose of the national assessment is to gather information that will aid educators, legislators, and others in improving the education experience of youth in our country. Its primary goals are to measure the current status of the educational attainments of young Americans and to report changes and long-term trends in those attainments. Other goals include disseminating assessment methods and materials and assisting those who wish to apply them at the local, state and national levels. Although the primary purpose of the assessment is to document patterns and trends in student achievement, the project is also able to inform education policy by collecting descriptive background information from students, teachers and school administrators

Organizational Structure

NCES in the U.S. Department of Education is responsible, by law, for carrying out the NAEP project and overseeing the administration of the assessment. NCES publishes the results of the NAEP assessments and releases them to the public.

NAGB, appointed by the Secretary of Education, governs and sets policy for NAEP. NAGB is also responsible for selecting subject areas to be assessed, identifying appropriate achievement goals, developing assessment objectives, developing test specifications, designing assessment methodology, and developing guidelines/standards for data analysis and reporting standards/procedures for interstate, regional, and national comparisons.

Educational Testing Service (ETS) is responsible for developing the assessment instruments, overseeing the scoring of student responses, analyzing the data, and reporting the results.

Westat Research is responsible for selecting school and student samples and managing field operations (including assessment administration and data collection activities).

NCS Pearson, a subcontractor to ETS, is responsible for printing and distributing the assessment materials. NCS is also responsible for scanning and scoring students' responses

American Institutes for Research (AIR), also a subcontractor to ETS, is responsible for developing the background questionnaires.


NAEP is required by law to conduct national and state assessments at least once every two years in reading and mathematics in grades 4 and 8. These assessments are combined to reduce the total number of schools in the sample and are conducted in the same year.

NAEP will conduct a national assessment and may conduct a state assessment in reading and mathematics in grade 12 at regularly scheduled intervals, or every two years.

To the extent that time and budgets allow, NAEP will be conducting assessments in grades 4, 8, and 12 at regularly scheduled intervals in additional subjects including writing, science, history, geography, civics, economics, foreign language, and arts. A projected NAEP schedule of assessments through the year 2017 can be found at the NCES Web site.

NAEP also administers long-trend assessments every four years to students aged 9, 13, and 17. The long-term trend NAEP, first given in 1973, allows change in national achievement over time to be tracked reliably. Based on national samples of students, this assessment provides descriptive information about students' strengths and areas of improvement, the relative achievement of student groups by gender and ethnicity, and information relating achievement and background variables. The long-term trend NAEP consists of the same test items and test procedures originally used in the 1970's. It produces trend data that is used to anchor the assessment so that today's student performance can be compared with students of the past. The long-term trend NAEP is often described as measuring basic skills because it examines student performance with traditional paper and pencil computation.

The selection of schools is a random sample within classes of schools with similar characteristics. There are cases where some schools or districts may be selected for each assessment cycle if they are unique in the state. For instance, a district may be the only major metropolitan area of a state or have the majority of a minority population in the state. Schools may be selected each assessment cycle if they have more than one percent of the enrollment in the grade being assessed.

Students are also randomly selected and their names are not collected or reported. Typically, thirty students per subject per grade are selected randomly in each sample school. Students with disabilities or limited English proficient students are included in the sample if their individualized educational plan allows for the assessment. Accommodations are allowed on the NAEP assessment. NAEP does not provide individual student or school level results.

In 2001, NAGB and the Council of Great City Schools (CGCS) successfully petitioned Congress to fund the NAEP Urban School District Assessment feasibility study. In 2002, NAEP conducted the first Trial Urban School District Assessment with five metropolitan cities that included the Atlanta Public City School System.

There are now twenty-one districts that participate in the Trial Urban School District assessments. All have high minority and high-density communities. Criteria used for district selection include district size, socioeconomic status, the percent of minority students, the percent of special education students, and the number of schools. Reporting will include individual district and comparative district data.

Current Georgia NAEP results are available at the Georgia Department of Education and the NCES State Report Web sites

Federal Legislation

President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 into law on January 8, 2002, initiating a series of changes to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The most prominent of these changes is that NAEP participation in the biennial assessment in reading and mathematics at grades 4 and 8 is required by any state that wishes to receive a Title I grant. States must include in the state plan submitted to the Secretary of Education, an assurance that beginning in 2003, the state will participate in the biennial assessment. Local education agencies that receive a Title I subgrant must include an assurance in their Title I plans submitted to the state that they will participate in biennial state NAEP assessments in reading and mathematics at grades 4 and 8 if they are selected for the NAEP sample. State participation in NAEP other than reading and mathematics in grades 4 and 8 shall be voluntary, ESEA HR1 Title 1 Part A, Sec. 1111 and HR1 Title VI, Part A. Federal legislation also requires the notification of parents in writing that student participation is voluntary.

State Legislation

The State School Superintendent, the State Board of Education and the Georgia Legislature support participation in the NAEP program. State Board Rule 160-3-1-.07 states, "Local school systems shall participate in the NAEP assessment programs." State law, O.C.G.A. Section 20-2-281 also requires Georgia's participation in NAEP assessments. There will be no rewards or sanctions to states, local education agencies, or schools based on state NAEP results.

Types of Results

NAEP provides results about subject-matter achievement, instructional experiences, and school environment and reports these results for populations of students and subgroups of those populations. Information provided through background questionnaires completed by students, teachers, and school administrators enables NAEP to examine student performance in the context of various education-related factors. NAEP does not provide individual scores for the schools or students assessed. In addition, NAEP provides states with two major reports: The Nation's Report Card and the State Report. The Nation's Report Card is a composite report of national and state-by-state results. The State Report is tailored for each participating state, comparing the state's results with those of the nation and region.

Subject-matter achievement is reported in two ways: scale score and achievement levels. NAEP scale score results provide information about the distribution of student achievement for groups and subgroups. Scale scores provide information about what students know and can do. NAEP achievement level results provide information that indicates the extent to which student achievement meets expectations. Achievement levels are used to report results in terms of a set of standards for what students should know and should be able to do. Achievement levels categorize student achievement as Basic, Proficient, and Advanced using ranges of performance established for each grade. Because NAEP scales are developed independently for each subject, scale score and achievement level results cannot be compared across subjects.

Ways Educators Can Use NAEP Results in Their Work

NAEP reports on student performance with comprehensive information about what students at grades 4, 8, and 12 know and can do in various subject areas. It provides descriptions of students' strengths and areas of improvement in basic and higher-order skills; comparisons of achievement by race/ethnicity, gender, type of community, and region; and trends in performance across the years. It also describes relationships between achievement and certain background variables collected about students (i.e., homework, employment, reading materials in the home, TV watching) and about instruction (amounts of instructional time and hands-on-learning, etc.).

NAEP materials such as subject area frameworks, released assessment questions, and the national and state reports have many uses in the educational community. NAEP frameworks present and explain what experts in a particular subject area consider important. Each framework outlines the subject, often providing examples, in ways that may give teachers and curriculum planners new perspectives about their fields. Frameworks frequently provide theoretical information about problem solving through their descriptive classifications of cognitive levels. Educators can relate these cognitive levels to various subject content areas and evaluate how classroom instruction and assessment focus on each cognitive level. For example, an instructor may study the mathematics framework and see that most of his or her instruction addresses procedural knowledge. The instructor can then include more problems at a higher cognitive level, perhaps following examples suggested in the framework.

After each assessment, NCES releases nearly one-third of the questions, making copies available to the interested public. The packages containing the released questions include answer keys, content and process descriptions, and information about the percentages of students who answered the questions correctly. Released questions are also available on the NAEP Web site. The Sample Questions Tool displays test questions, along with sample student responses and scoring guides from the assessment. The test questions can be downloaded and printed directly from the Web site. Released questions often serve as models for teachers who wish to develop their own classroom assessments. Schools have used this information to provide staff development in the design and construction of assessments.

Using the results from the various NAEP reports, states can monitor their own progress over time in the selected subject areas and compare the knowledge and skills of their students with students in other states and with the nation. Although state NAEP does not report on the performance of individual students, NAEP reports on the overall performance of aggregates of students (e.g., the average reading scale score for eight-grade students or the percentage of eighth-grade students performing at or above the Proficient level in reading). NAEP also reports on major subgroups of the student population categorized by demographic factors such as race or ethnicity, gender, highest level of parental education, location of the school (central city, urban fringe or large town, or rural or small town), and type of school (public or nonpublic).

Information provided through background questionnaires completed by students, teachers, and school administrators enables NAEP to examine student performance in the context of various education-related factors. For instance, the NAEP assessments reported results gathered from these questionnaires for the following contextual variables: course taking, homework, use of textbooks or other instructional materials, home discussions of school work, and television-viewing habits.

Districts and local schools have used NAEP materials to revise their curricula, develop models of innovative assessments, examine instructional methods of delivery, target specific populations for remediation and enrichment, create student academic assistance programs and develop local school plans of improvement. NAEP results specifically targeted to educators are reported in a variety of formats and can be found at the Nation's Report Card and the State Report Web sites.


Simple or causal inferences related to subgroup membership, the effectiveness of public/nonpublic schools and state/district level educational systems should not be drawn using NAEP results.

NAEP does not, nor is designed to, report scores for individuals. Therefore, student-level inferences should not be drawn from the NAEP data.

The NAEP assessment results are most useful when they are considered in light of other knowledge about the education system, such as trends in educational reform, changes in school-age population, and societal demands and expectations.

2011 Reading
2011 Mathematics
2009 Science
2009 Reading
2009 Math



NAEP Resources
NAEP Content Weights

NAEP Questions Tool Guide Revised
Questions Tool Presentations