Frequently Asked Questions
How are state tests different from the National Assessment of Educational Progress?
Most state tests measure student performance on the state's own curriculum standards, that is, on what policymakers and citizens consider important for students to know and be able to do. State tests allow comparisons of results over time within the state and, in most cases, give individual student scores so that parents can know how their child is performing. State tests do not provide comparisons of results with other states or the nation. NAEP is the only assessment that allows comparison of results from one state with another, or with results for the rest of the nation. The NAEP program helps states answer such questions as the following: How does the performance of students in my state compare with the performance of students in other states with similar resources or students? How does my state's performance compare with the region's? Are my state's gains in student performance keeping up with the pace of improvement in other states? The term "proficiency" used in relation to performance on state tests does not have the same meaning as the term Proficient on the NAEP achievement levels, because the criteria used to determine proficiency are different. Together, state achievement tests and NAEP help educators and policymakers develop a comprehensive picture of student performance.
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What are the goals of the NAEP program?
NAEP has two major goals: to compare student achievement across states and other jurisdictions and to track changes in achievement of fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-graders over time in mathematics, reading, writing, science, and other content domains. To meet these dual goals, NAEP selects nationally representative samples of students who participate in either the main NAEP assessments or the long-term trend NAEP assessments.
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Who are the students assessed by NAEP?
The national results are based on a representative sample of students in public schools, private schools, Bureau of Indian Affairs schools, and Department of Defense schools. Private schools include Catholic, Conservative Christian, Lutheran, and other private schools. The state results are based on public school students only. The long-term trend assessments report results for age samples 9, 13, and 17 in public and nonpublic schools. In the past, they have measured students' achievements in mathematics, science, reading, and writing. However, beginning with the 2003–2004 long-term trend assessment, only mathematics and reading are assessed in long-term trend NAEP.
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Is information about the NAEP testing procedures available?
Yes. Information is available for the reading assessment and the mathematics assessment. The sampling, data collection, data analysis, and reporting procedures used as part of the NAEP program are described.
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Who evaluates NAEP?
Because NAEP findings have an impact on the public's understanding of student academic achievement, precautions must be taken to ensure the reliability of these findings. Therefore, in its current legislation, as in previous legislative mandates, Congress has called for an ongoing evaluation of the assessment as a whole. In response to these legislative mandates, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has established various expert panels to study NAEP, and panels are formed periodically by NCES or external organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences to conduct evaluations. The Buros Institute for Mental Measurements is currently conducting an evaluation.
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How are results reported?
Student performance is reported in two ways: in terms of scale scores and achievement levels.
Average scale scores are derived from the overall level of performance of groups of students on NAEP assessment items. NAEP subject area average scale scores are typically expressed on a 0–500 (reading, mathematics, history, and geography) or a 0–300 (science, writing, and civics) scale. Because of changes to the 2005 mathematics framework, 2005 grade 12 scale scores are expressed on a 0–300 scale, while the grades 4 and 8 scale scores are expressed on a 0–500 scale.When used in conjunction with interpretive aids, such as item maps, average scores provide information about what a particular aggregate of students in the population knows and can do.
Achievement levels are performance standards, set by the National Assessment Governing Board, that provide a context for interpreting student performance on NAEP, based on recommendations from panels of educators and members of the public.
The levels, which are Basic, Proficient, and Advanced, measure what students should know and be able to do at each grade assessed. Read the detailed reading achievement-level descriptions and mathematics achievement-level descriptions on the NAEP website. These descriptions are available for each of the subjects NAEP assesses.
NAEP provides results about subject-matter performance, instructional experiences, and school environment and reports these results for populations of students (e.g., fourth-graders) and groups of those populations (e.g., male students or Hispanic students). NAEP cannot provide individual scores for the students or schools assessed.
Because NAEP scales are developed independently for each subject, scale score and achievement-level results cannot be compared across subjects. However, these reporting metrics greatly facilitate performance comparisons within a subject from year to year, and from one group of students to another in the same grade.
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How are NAEP data and assessment results used to explore education and policy issues? What technical assistance does NAEP provide?
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) grants members of the educational research community permission to use NAEP data.
NAEP results are provided in formats that the general public can easily access. Tailored to specific audiences, NAEP reports are widely disseminated. Since the 1994 assessment, all reports and data have been placed on the World Wide Web to provide even easier access.
In addition, NCES periodically offers seminars to stimulate interest in using NAEP data to address educational research questions, enhance participants' understanding of the methodological and technological issues relevant to NAEP, and demonstrate the steps necessary for conducting accurate statistical analyses of NAEP data. These seminars are advertised in advance on the NCES website. Research using NAEP data is supported by grants from several sources.
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