About the NAEP Geography Assessment

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in geography is designed to measure students' knowledge, understanding, and application of geography in the content areas of Space and Place, Environment and Society, and Spatial Dynamics and Connections. Students answer a series of selected-response and open-ended questions based on these content areas in geography. Performance results are reported for students in the nation and disaggregated by various student characteristics.

In 2018, the NAEP geography assessment transitioned from a paper-based assessment (PBA) to a digitally based assessment (DBA) at grade 8. A multi-step process was used for the transition from PBA to DBA, which involved administering the assessment in both formats to randomly equivalent groups of students in 2018. The transition was designed and implemented with careful intent to preserve trend lines that show student performance over time. Thus, the results from the 2018 geography assessment can be compared to results from previous years.

Framework and Design

The NAEP Geography Assessment Framework

The National Assessment Governing Board oversees the development of NAEP frameworks that describe the specific knowledge and skills to be assessed in each subject and how the assessment questions should be designed and scored. The development of the NAEP geography framework was guided by subject matter expert committees. The same framework that has guided assessment development since 1994 was used to guide development of the 2018 digitally based assessment.

The geography framework organizes the assessment around content areas and cognitive areas. Content areas serve to clarify the subject matter that should be measured in the geography assessment and include

  • Space and Place questions that measure students' knowledge of geography related to particular places on Earth, spatial patterns on Earth's surface, and physical and human processes that shape spatial patterns.
  • Environment and Society questions that measure students' knowledge of how people depend upon, adapt to, are affected by, and modify the natural environment.
  • Spatial Dynamics and Connections questions that measure students' ability to understand geography as it relates to spatial variations and the connections among people and places.

The cognitive areas in the assessment reflect the importance placed on learning geography concepts and vocabulary (Knowing) so that students may begin to think about what they mean (Understanding) and apply them to real-world problems (Applying).

  • Knowing questions ask: What is it? Where is it?

Students are assessed on their ability to observe and recall. Students should be able to observe different elements of the landscape and answer questions about them. For example, they should be able to recall the name of a place or a resource indigenous to a particular country or find information about trading patterns among several countries.

  • Understanding questions ask: Why is it there? How did it get there? What is its significance?

Students attribute meaning to what has been observed and explain an event in their own words. Putting events in context and explaining them requires students to see connections among different pieces of geographic information, and to use that information to explain existing patterns and processes on Earth.

  • Applying questions ask: How can knowledge and understanding be used to solve geographic problems?

In this area, students classify, hypothesize, and use inductive and deductive reasoning, and form problem-solving models. This cognitive area calls upon students to make use of many different tools and skills of geography as they attempt to develop a comprehensive understanding of a problem in order to propose viable solutions.