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About Vocabulary

Vocabulary questions were administered as part of the 2009 and 2011 reading assessments to a nationally representative sample of students. As part of the reading assessment, vocabulary questions measure students' ability to apply word knowledge in order to develop and interpret meaning. Results from the 2009 reading assessment are based on a nationally representative sample of 116,600 fourth-graders, 103,400 eighth-graders, and 44,500 twelfth-graders. Results from the 2011 assessment are based on samples of 213,100 students at grade 4 and 168,200 students at grade 8. The reading assessment was not administered at grade 12 in 2011. The national results reflect the performance of students attending public schools, private schools, Bureau of Indian Education schools, and Department of Defense schools. Results for states and jurisdictions reflect the performance of students in public schools only.

NAEP vocabulary results are reported as the percentages of students who correctly answered vocabulary questions and as average scores on a 0-500 cross-grade scale for grades 4, 8, and 12. While vocabulary results cannot be reported in terms of the NAEP achievement levels (Basic, Proficient, and Advanced), vocabulary scores are reported to show patterns in results for students performing at lower (10th, and 25th), middle (50th), and higher (75th and 90th) percentiles. Explore results presented by percentile.

As part of the NAEP reading assessment, vocabulary questions are developed according to strict criteria specified in the NAEP reading framework. The National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the creation of NAEP frameworks, incorporated the expertise of many individuals involved in reading education when developing the current reading framework. Vocabulary questions appear in two different types of sections of the reading assessment: comprehension sections and vocabulary sections. Vocabulary sections were added to the assessment design so that there would be sufficient data to report on vocabulary performance. The two types of sections differ in the length of the reading passage: passages used to measure reading comprehension were longer than those used to measure meaning vocabulary. Approximately 10 multiple-choice and constructed-response questions were used in reading comprehension sections, while meaning vocabulary sections contained approximately 5 multiple-choice questions. Each comprehension section includes two vocabulary questions as well as other multiple-choice and constructed-response questions. Vocabulary sections include approximately five vocabulary multiple-choice questions. In 2009, a total of 28 comprehension sections and ten vocabulary sections were administered at grades 4, 8, and 12. In 2011, nineteen comprehension sections and eight vocabulary sections were administered at grades 4 and 8. Explore the vocabulary questions in the NAEP Questions Tool.

Students' knowledge of vocabulary was measured as part of the main NAEP reading assessment. To find out more about the reading assessment overall, explore tables on the target population and sample, school and student participation rates, and inclusion of students with disabilities and English language learners. Read the NAEP inclusion policy to learn more about NAEP accommodations and the history of the policy. Learn what the reading assessment measures, and how to interpret the reading results.