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Frequently Asked Questions

Some Frequently Asked Questions About the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) or The Nation's Report Card

What NAEP Covers
NAEP Design

Federal and State Context
The Governing Board
Comparisons to Common Core

What NAEP Covers

What subjects does NAEP measure and how many grade levels are covered?

NAEP conducts assessments periodically in mathematics, reading, writing, science, geography, U.S. history, civics, economics, and the arts. The Governing Board has also adopted a framework for a future foreign language assessment. The main NAEP assessments are conducted in grades 4, 8, and 12, although each subject does not necessarily involve all three grades. The long term trend NAEP—which is based on older frameworks and reports trends back to 1969-70—assesses students at ages 9, 13, and 17 in reading and mathematics. The NAEP Assessment Schedule contains a complete list of recent and upcoming NAEP assessments.

What is TUDA and will more districts be included in the future?

The Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) was initiated in 2002 as a study to determine the feasibility of including urban districts as a regular component of NAEP. It looks specifically at performance results of large urban school districts in reading, mathematics, science, and writing. As of 2015, the cities currently in TUDA include: Albuquerque, N.M.; Atlanta; Austin; Baltimore; Boston; Charlotte; Chicago; Cleveland; Dallas; Detroit; Fresno, Calif.; Houston; Jacksonville, Fla. (Duval County); Los Angeles; Louisville, Ky. (Jefferson County); Miami (Dade County); New York; Philadelphia; San Diego; Tampa, Fla. (Hillsborough County); and Washington, D.C. See a list of both current and eligible districts.

What are the NAEP achievement levels?

Achievement levels are the standards that the Governing Board adopts, used to report what students should know and be able to do for basic, proficient, and advanced performance in each grade and subject tested. For each level there is a written description of performance, a set of illustrative sample questions, and a minimum score on the NAEP scale.

The general policy definitions for achievement levels were adopted by the Governing Board in 1990 and revised slightly in 1993. To set the levels for each subject, preliminary descriptions are adopted after wide public consultation. Broadly representative panels are then convened to make final recommendations to the Board. The panels are composed of classroom teachers, other educators, and knowledgeable members of the public. They examine the questions and student performance data in a tightly structured process, conducted by a contractor with extensive experience in the field of standard-setting.

What are the policy definitions for achievement levels?

Basic—Denotes partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade.

Proficient—Represents solid academic performance for each grade assessed. Students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter.

Advanced—Signifies superior performance.

The central language of proficient, "competency over challenging subject matter," was taken from the National Education Goals, announced by the president and the nation's governors in 1989.

NAEP Design

How are students selected for NAEP and how many of them are assessed for each exam?

NAEP is a representative-sample assessment. It reports on the achievement of large groups of students, and does not give results for individuals or schools. Participating schools are selected by the National Center for Education Statistics and its contractor according to a sampling frame in order to produce results that are nationally representative and also representative of participating states and urban districts. Within each school students are selected randomly from a list of all those enrolled at the target grade. Individual schools and students cannot volunteer for NAEP, and state, district, and local officials cannot choose the students or schools that become involved. Information about students and schools are kept confidential.

In national-only samples there usually are about 8,000 to 12,000 students assessed per subject per grade in about 400 to 650 public and private schools. For a particular subject, each state sample has about 2,500 to 3,000 students per grade in about 100 public schools. Each district sample has about 1,000 to 2,000 students per grade and subject in about 20 to 100 public schools.

In 2007, which included national, state, and district samples in three subjects, approximately 870,000 students were assessed. In 2008, which has only national samples for long-term trends and the arts, about 75,000 students are expected to participate.

When are NAEP assessments given?

The main NAEP assessments are given in winter from the last week in January through the first week of March.

Based on procedures used since their inception, the long-term trend assessments are administered at three different times of the year:  in the fall for 13-year-olds, winter for 9-year-olds, and spring for 17-year-olds.

What is the lag time between when students take the test and when the results are reported?

It varies. The reading and math assessments for grades 4 and 8 are reported 6 months after the exam is administered. These are the subjects and grades required under No Child Left Behind. Other NAEP results are usually reported in about a year, but sometimes it has taken longer to collect, analyze, and report data.

When exams in subjects like reading and math are administered over the years, are you testing the same students over time?

There is no effort made to track individual students. Since students are selected randomly, it is possible in rare instances for a student to be selected a second time. In general though, the eighth-graders who took the math exam in 2007, for example, were not the same as the fourth grade students who were assessed in 2003. In all cases, however, the samples—national, state, or district—are designed to be representative of the groups assessed.

Can I use NAEP results to find out how a participating school or student did?

No, NAEP is a representative-sample assessment, designed to report group results, and cannot provide accurate data on individual students and schools.  By law, the assessment is required to make sure that all personally identifiable information about students and schools remains confidential.

Federal and State Context

Is NAEP part of the No Child Left Behind Act?

The National Assessment of Educational Progress began in 1969, decades before the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was passed in 2001. Under NCLB, all states are required to participate in NAEP's reading and mathematics assessments in the fourth and eighth grades every 2 years as a condition for receiving federal aid. But no sanctions or rewards are tied to NAEP results. State participation in all other NAEP subjects and grades is completely voluntary.

Is NAEP related to the standardized tests mandated by my state?

No, NAEP is conducted and reported separately from any state-conducted tests. State tests are designed to provide information on individual students and schools. They are tied to the curriculum and academic standards of each state.

In most cases, there are differences in test content, standards, test administration, and preparation between NAEP and state tests.

Since NAEP is designed to produce group scores, not individual student results, it tests only a relatively small number of students in each state. Also, each student in the NAEP sample takes only part of the full assessment, which is far longer than any particular state exam. By law, NAEP is forbidden to report individual student or school results.

State tests are designed to provide information on individual students and schools.  They are tied to the curriculum and academic standards of each state, rather than to a national model.

Why are there different rates of exclusions and accommodations for NAEP in each state?

Accommodation and exclusion rates on NAEP vary because of state-to-state differences in demography, school policies, and testing practices.

For students designated by their schools as disabled, NAEP generally provides the same testing accommodations or non-standard administration procedures as state exams. Where NAEP does not allow a particular accommodation, such as having the reading exam read aloud to students or permitting calculators on all parts of the math exam, students may be excused from participation in NAEP.

For students designated by their schools as English language learners, NAEP offers math and science exams in Spanish to students tested in that language by their states. For most other subjects, NAEP allows bilingual dictionaries in whatever language a student needs. However, students may be excluded from the assessment when NAEP does not offer an accommodation or translation, such as in reading, which NAEP tests in English only.

Thus, differences in NAEP exclusion and accommodation rates reflect 4 factors: demographic differences; different state policies on identifying students as disabled or limited English; the proportion of students in a state who are tested under non-standard conditions; and whether those accommodations are permitted on NAEP.

The Governing Board

How long do members of the Governing Board serve and how are they selected?

Governing Board members serve 4-year terms that are staggered. They are appointed by the Secretary of Education in categories determined by law to ensure that the Governing Board includes a wide range of viewpoints and interests. The annual process starts with the Governing Board's Nominations Committee, which does a broad-based search including a call for nominations sent to more than 1,400 organizations. A notice is also posted on the Governing Board's Web site. Members of the Nominations Committee independently rate each candidate's resume. Ultimately, there is a slate of six candidates that the Governing Board forwards to the Secretary of Education for each open position. Each fall, the Secretary announces the new Governing Board appointments. Members may serve a maximum of two consecutive 4-year terms.

Are Governing Board members usually of the same political party as the current presidential administration?

No, the Governing Board is independent and bipartisan, and is not under the direction of administration officials. In fact, Congress established the Governing Board to ensure that decisions on the content, standards, and reporting of NAEP are made independently of Department of Education officials. The law states that the Board shall exercise "its independent judgment free from inappropriate influences and special interests" and "be independent of the Secretary and other offices and officers of the Department." Its membership is balanced, and must, by law, include two state governors, who may not be members of the same political party, and two state legislators, who must also belong to different parties. The other Board members are selected on a non-partisan basis.

Comparisons to Common Core

Will NAEP be matched to the Common Core curriculum standards?

The groups that prepared the Common Core state standards and are developing the Common Core tests have drawn many of their approaches and ideas from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Many of the same people have been involved in both programs, including several members of the National Assessment Governing Board. Cooperation is ongoing, but there are no plans for NAEP and the Common Core to become wholly similar or matched. The Governing Board believes strongly that NAEP should continue to play an important role as an independent measure of student achievement under whatever education policies [or reforms] that states adopt.

For more than 40 years the National Assessment has provided the public with reliable, representative-sample information on what students know and can do in a wide range of academic subjects. Because of NAEP's sampling methodology, designed to produce sound results for large groups of students, the NAEP assessments are much broader-in content, item types, and levels of difficulty-than any exams designed to produce individual results, including those being developed for the Common Core.

Once the two sets of Common Core assessments are available in 2014-2015, there surely will be comparisons between their content and NAEP's. We expect these will show some differences as well as substantial similarities. The Board believes it will be important to maintain NAEP's distinctiveness and its trends in order to provide the nation and the states with a stable, independent measure of whether educational progress is indeed being made.