About the NAEP Reading Assessment

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is a congressionally mandated project administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) within the U.S. Department of Education and is the largest continuing and nationally representative assessment of what our nation's students know and can do in select subjects. NCES first administered NAEP in 1969 to measure student achievement nationally. The NAEP reading assessment uses literary and informational texts to measure students' reading comprehension skills. Students read grade-appropriate passages and answer questions based on what they have read. Results at grades 4 and 8 are reported for the nation overall, for states and jurisdictions, and for districts participating in the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA); results for grade 12 are reported for the nation only.

The NAEP reading assessments at grades 4 and 8 were administered as digitally based assessments. In 2019, for grade 12, both a digitally based assessment and paper-based assessment were administered. Twelfth-grade students were randomly assigned to take either the digitally based or paper-based assessment. Read more about the NAEP Digitally Based Reading Assessment.

Digitally Based Assessment

NAEP 2019 Digitally Based Reading Assessment

The NAEP reading assessments at grades 4, 8, and 12 were administered on tablets supplied by NCES. A secure, local NAEP network was used, which allowed NAEP administrators to create a stable assessment environment that would not be influenced by school-based equipment or school internet connectivity, thereby maintaining consistency across the assessed schools. Students were able to interact with the tablets using touchscreen, the attached keyboard, or a stylus. The digitally based reading assessment provided students with tools such as annotation via an on-screen pencil or highlighter, selection of color themes, and zoom-in. In addition, a text-to-speech capability was available on the Directions and Help screens (but not available for the reading passages or questions). See how the reading assessment was presented to students. At the beginning of the assessment session, students viewed an interactive tutorial that presented all the information needed to take the assessment on a tablet; for example, the tutorial explains how to progress through the reading passage and how to indicate or provide answers to questions, as well as how to use the tools. The interactive nature of the tutorial allowed students to familiarize themselves with the digital delivery system before beginning the actual assessment.

The digitally based reading assessment was designed to continue reporting trends in student performance dating back to 1992 while also keeping pace with the new generation of classroom environments in which digital technology has increasingly become a part of students' learning. The 2019 assessment contents at grades 4, 8, and 12 were either transadapted from the paper-based assessment or developed with the same reading framework that has guided assessment development since the 2009 assessment. The passages and questions that had been previously used in the paper-based assessment were adapted to fit a tablet screen. While the presentation of content changed, the content itself did not change.

Grades 4 and 8

In 2019, the reading assessments at grades 4 and 8 were administered digitally for the second time. The transition from paper-based assessment (PBA) to digitally based assessment (DBA) was completed in 2017. Technical details about the DBA transition are available in The 2017 NAEP Transition to Digitally Based Assessments in Mathematics and Reading at Grades 4 and 8: Mode Evaluation Study.

Most of the content at grades 4 and 8 in 2019 was also used in the 2017 digitally based assessment and in the 2015 paper-based assessment. Of the 19 passages and question sets administered across grades 4 and 8, one set at each grade was newly developed for 2017. For the 2019 digitally based assessment, four new sets were developed at each grade. Because the transition, which placed the DBA results onto the trend line occurred in 2017, the usual NAEP procedure of common item linking was used to calculate the trend line from 2017 to 2019. The 2019 results at grades 4 and 8 presented in this report are based on the performance of students who took the assessment on tablets.

Grade 12

The assessment at grade 12 was administered digitally for the first time in 2019. Most of the content at grade 12 was also used in the 2015 paper-based assessment. Of the 15 passage and question sets administered at grade 12 in 2019, eleven were transitioned from the 2015 paper-based assessment and four sets were newly developed.

As with the grades 4 and 8 assessments in 2017, a multistep process was used for the transition from the paper-based assessment to a digitally based assessment in order to preserve trend lines that show student performance over time. In addition to the digitally based assessment, a random subsample of students were administered the complete 2015 paper-based version of the grade 12 assessment in 2019. NCES administered the assessment in both modes—paper-based and digitally based—in all the sampled schools to investigate potential differences in performance between students taking the assessment on a tablet and students taking the paper-based assessment. However, in schools with fewer than 21 students, all students were assigned to either the digitally based or paper-based assessment. Each participating student, however, took the assessment in only one mode. After the administration of the assessment at grade 12, NCES conducted rigorous analyses of the data and aligned the 2019 results to previous assessment years using a two-step process.

  • First, common item linking was used to calculate the trend line from 2015 to 2019 based on the paper-based assessment results. This kind of linking was possible because the majority of 2019 assessment questions were also administered in 2015 and showed the same statistical properties.
  • Second, common population linking was used to align the 2015 paper-based assessment results with the 2019 digital assessment results. This kind of linking was possible because the samples of students for each assessment mode were randomly equivalent; that is, each random sample included students from the same school, ensuring that the students' educational experiences and characteristics were equivalent.

Once the common population linking had aligned the digital results to the paper results on the national level, the analyses evaluated whether the linking allowed for fair and meaningful comparisons for national student groups. These evaluations supported making trend comparisons between the digitally based assessment and previous paper-based assessments for student groups.

These analyses—common item linking based on paper results and common population linking of paper results to digital results—enabled NCES to successfully maintain the reading trend line while transitioning to the digital assessment at grade 12 in 2019. The 2019 grade 12 reading assessment results in this report are based on the combined performance of students who took the assessment on paper and students who took the assessment on tablets. Read more about the grade 12 transition and mode evaluation.