About the NAEP U.S. History Assessment

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in U.S. history is designed to measure students' knowledge of American history in the context of change and continuity in democracy, culture and society, technological and economic changes, and America's changing world role. Students answer a series of selected-response and open-ended questions based on these areas (or themes) in American history. Performance results are reported for students in the nation and disaggregated by various student characteristics.

In 2018, the NAEP U.S. history assessment transitioned from a paper-based assessment (PBA) to a digitally based assessment (DBA) at grade 8. A multistep 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 U.S. history assessment can be compared to results from previous years.

Framework and Design

The NAEP U.S. History 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 U.S. history framework was guided by subject matter expert committees. The framework defines U.S. history⎯and the process of understanding U.S. history⎯as a dynamic interplay between content knowledge and intellectual (or cognitive) skills used to understand this knowledge, through analysis and interpretation. The same framework that has guided assessment development since 1994 was used to guide development of the 2018 digitally based assessment.

The U.S. history framework organizes the assessment around: themes, time periods, and ways of knowing and thinking about U.S. history. Each of the items corresponds to one of the themes and one of the periods listed below. The four historical themes define the subscales for reporting the U.S. history assessment results; in other words, one can compare the performance among different student groups and compare performance across time on each of the themes. The themes are as follows:

  1. Democracy − Change and continuity in American democracy: ideas, institutions, events, key figures, and controversies;
  2. Culture − The gathering and interactions of peoples, cultures, and ideas;
  3. Technology − Economic and technological changes and their relation to society, ideas, and the environment; and
  4. World Role − The changing role of America in the world.

Eight chronological periods were used in developing the assessment to ensure appropriate chronological coverage. The periods focus attention on several major eras of U.S. history and overlap at times. The eight periods are as follows:

  1. Beginnings to 1607;
  2. Colonization, settlement, and communities (1607 to 1763);
  3. The Revolution and the new nation (1763 to 1815);
  4. Expansion and reform (1801 to 1861);
  5. Crisis of the Union: Civil War and Reconstruction (1850 to 1877);
  6. The development of modern America (1865 to 1920);
  7. Modern America and the World Wars (1914 to 1945); and
  8. Contemporary America (1945 to present).

The two ways of knowing and thinking about U.S. history—the cognitive dimension of the assessment—were also used as a guide to develop questions. The two cognitive domains are as follows:

  1. Historical knowledge and perspective: includes knowing and understanding people, events, concepts, themes, movements, contexts, and historical sources; sequencing events; recognizing multiple perspectives and seeing an era or movement through the eyes of different groups; and developing a general conceptualization of U.S. history.
  2. Historical analysis and interpretation: includes explaining issues, identifying historical patterns; establishing cause-and-effect relationships; finding value statements; establishing significance; applying historical knowledge; weighing evidence to draw sound conclusions; making defensible generalizations; and rendering insightful accounts of the past.