Beginning with the NAEP 2009 reading assessment, a systematic measure of vocabulary was included as part of the NAEP reading assessment. As described in the Reading Framework NAEP meaning vocabulary questions are designed to assess how well students are able to use words to gain meaning from the passages they read. While previous NAEP assessments had included some vocabulary questions, the framework for the 2009 assessment provided criteria for developing vocabulary questions as well as prescribing the number of questions to be included in each comprehension section of the assessment. This systematic assessment of vocabulary allows NAEP to more fully assess the impact of vocabulary knowledge on student's comprehension and makes it possible to report on students' vocabulary performance. In addition to the inclusion of vocabulary questions in the comprehension assessment, additional sections containing all vocabulary questions were also included in the assessment.
This report presents vocabulary results from the 2009 and 2011 reading assessments and contains links to the vocabulary questions that were administered during these assessments.
Vocabulary results from the 2009 reading assessment are based on nationally representative samples 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.
To find sample vocabulary questions in the NAEP Questions Tool, begin by selecting the subject, Reading. Then refine your search by selecting “Multiple-choice” and “Integrate/Interpret.” The vocabulary questions are easy to identify by their descriptors, all of which begin with “Interpret word as used….” For example, “Interpret word as used in story” or “Interpret word as used in passage.”
Summary of Results
The NAEP reading framework acknowledges the association between vocabulary and reading comprehension. At its most fundamental level, reading comprehension (the ability to understand what one has read) requires knowing the meaning of words. To comprehend what they read, students must integrate their knowledge or sense of words as they are used in particular passages to understand the overall topic or theme. Understanding key words that support the main idea or theme and details that contribute shades of meaning further enhance comprehension to create a richer experience. This association is reflected in the results that show that on average students who performed well on the vocabulary questions also performed well in reading comprehension.
Vocabulary Performance and Comprehension
Fourth-grade students performing above the 75th percentile
in reading comprehension in 2011 also had the highest average vocabulary score.
Lower-performing fourth-graders at or below the 25th percentile in reading comprehension had the lowest average vocabulary score.
The patterns are similar for grade 8 in 2011 and for grade 12 in 2009. (Grade 12 was not assessed in 2011.)
Student Group Performance
Patterns in differences in average vocabulary scores for student groups sometimes varied by grade.
For each of the three grades, average vocabulary scores for White and Asian/Pacific Islander students were higher than the scores for Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native students. See the data for grade 4
, grade 8
, and grade 12
Female students scored higher on average than male students in vocabulary at grades 4 and 8 in 2011. At grade 12 in 2009, there was no significant difference in vocabulary scores between male and female students. See the data for grade 4
, grade 8
, and grade 12
At both grades 4 and 8, the average vocabulary scores for students who were eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch (an indicator of low family income) were lower than the scores for students who were not eligible in 2011. See the data for grade 4
and grade 8
See more vocabulary results.
Exploring the Questions
All vocabulary questions are presented as multiple-choice questions and relate to a particular passage. The questions appear in comprehension sections with other types of questions, as well as in sections that are composed solely of vocabulary questions. See an example of vocabulary questions appearing in a comprehension section. To choose the correct answer, students must recognize how the selected word contributes to the meaning of the passage. Options other than the correct answer may provide another meaning of the word, may present a misinterpretation of the part of the passage where the word appears, or may be an interpretation that correctly reflects passage content but does not reflect the meaning of the word. To choose the correct answer, students must recognize how the selected word contributes to the meaning in the passage they are reading. It is this intersection of word knowledge and passage comprehension that typifies NAEP vocabulary questions.
Performance results for the vocabulary questions help show the extent to which students are able to use their understanding of words to interpret what they read. The chart below shows words from released comprehension and vocabulary sections and the proportion of students at each grade who understood how the words were used to convey meaning.
- Explore the
meaning vocabulary questions that are represented in the table above in the NAEP Questions Tool.
Criteria Used to Select Vocabulary Words
Words selected for vocabulary questions must satisfy criteria specified in the reading framework. These criteria denote both characteristics of the word as well the role the word plays in the passage. As the intent of the assessment is not to measure students’ ability to learn new terms or words, questions do not ask about technical terms that are related only to specific content areas. Similarly, as the intent is to assess students ability to connect an appropriate meaning to gain comprehension, questions do not focus on words identifying the central idea of the passage as these words may represent new knowledge or concepts for the reader.
All questions on the NAEP reading assessment measure one of three cognitive targets as specified in the framework: locate and recall, integrate and interpret, and critique and evaluate. All of the meaning vocabulary questions are classified as integrate and interpret because a reader’s task in relation to words in a passage is to integrate their meaning within the context and interpret what the context means. In responding to a NAEP vocabulary question, students use their understanding of the word to interpret a part of the passage. Options other than the correct answer may provide another meaning of the word or may be an interpretation that correctly reflects passage content but does not reflect the meaning of the word. To choose the correct answer, students must recognize how the selected word contributes to the meaning in the passage they are reading. Find out more about what the reading assessment measures.
For more information, download a copy of the report.