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2013 Contextual Information

Contextual Information Framework for the National Assessment of Educational Progress

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has been established by law to monitor the academic achievement of American students. In addition to its academic assessments, NAEP has collected information from hundreds of non-cognitive or background questions about students, their educational experiences in class and at home, their teachers, and their schools. Some of these questions provide data for NAEP’s reporting categories, but far more have been used to give context to NAEP results or to track factors associated with academic achievement. Some have been used by scholars in social science research.

Concerns have been raised about the selection of background variables, the quality of the information obtained, and the validity of inferences drawn from it. There is also concern about the burden that collecting background information places on respondents and on the NAEP program. After the National Assessment Governing Board was granted final authority over the background questions in early 2002, it adopted a policy to focus NAEP background data on the primary purpose of the National Assessment—to provide sound, timely information on the academic achievement of American students. The Board also initiated a process to prepare a general framework to guide the collection and reporting of background data.

It is important to understand the National Assessment is not designed to prove cause-and-effect relationships; it cannot prescribe what should be done. But its descriptions of the educational circumstances of students at various achievement levels—considered in light of research from other sources—may provide important information for public discussion and policy action.

This framework will define the purpose and scope of NAEP’s system of collecting background information, including background questionnaires and other sources of non-cognitive data. It will establish criteria for reporting background information as part of the National Assessment. The approach it suggests provides for asking various groups of questions to various samples of students at various times.

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