The NAEP Long-Term Trend Assessment: A Review of Its Transformation, Use, and Findings
During the past 25 years, the country witnessed a dramatic transformation of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Actions by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), Congress, and the National Assessment Governing Board fundamentally changed NAEP’s role in federal educational policy and the nation’s schools. Developed in the 1960s through a privately funded initiative, NAEP began as a voluntary program run by a state consortium with financial support from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. It later became a congressionally legislated program administered by one of the country’s premier testing organizations and overseen by a federally mandated public board. 1 Over time, NAEP’s focus and scope changed substantially, expanding to grade and state testing, reporting by achievement levels, and, as part of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), requiring participation to receive Title 1 funds. NAEP was no longer a program whose results were reported in passing, but had become central to monitoring the nation’s progress in achievement and equity. One major change was splitting NAEP into two separate programs: 1) the main assessment that tested students in grades 4, 8, and 12 in diverse subjects and 2) the long-term trend assessment that tracked performance in reading, writing, math, and science at ages 9, 13, and 17 as NAEP had done since 1969.
This paper describes how NAEP’s trend assessment changed, its use in national educational discussions, and its major findings. From the earliest days, NAEP trends have figured prominently in debates over the decline of excellence, and extra attention is devoted to that issue. The paper also discusses the way in which NAEP trends have been used in evaluations of NCLB and the minority-majority achievement gap. A final section addresses the future of the long-term trend assessment. Its utility has been sufficiently questioned that the Board has considered eliminating it.