Frequently Asked Questions about the National Assessment of Educational Progress


What is NAEP?

NAEP, or the National Assessment of Educational Progress, is often called the "Nation's Report Card." It is the only measure of student achievement in the United States where you can compare the performance of students in your state with the performance of students across the nation or in other states. NAEP, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, has been conducted for over 30 years. The results are widely reported by the national and local media.

Are the data confidential?

Federal law dictates complete privacy for all test takers and their families. Under the National Assessment of Educational Progress Authorization Act (Public Law 107-279 III, section 303), the Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is charged with ensuring that NAEP tests do not question test-takers about personal or family beliefs or make information about their personal identity publicly available.

After publishing NAEP reports, NCES makes data available to researchers but withholds students' names and other identifying information. The names of all participating students are not allowed to leave the schools after NAEP assessments are administered. Because it might be possible to deduce from data the identities of some NAEP schools, researchers must promise, under penalty of fines and jail terms, to keep these identities confidential.

Can my school get school-level or individual student-level results?

No. By design, information will not be available at these levels. Reports traditionally disclose state, regional, and national results. In 2002, NAEP began to report (on a trial basis) results from several large urban districts (Trial Urban District Assessments, after the release of state and national results. Because NAEP is a large-group assessment, each student takes only a small part of the overall assessment. In most schools, only a small portion of the total grade enrollment is selected to take the assessment and these students may not reliably or validly represent the total school population. Only when the student scores are aggregated at the state or national level are the data considered reliable and valid estimates of what students know and can do in the content area; consequently, school- or student-level results are never reported.

Can NAEP results be linked to other assessment data?  

In recent years there has been considerable interest among education policymakers and researchers in linking NAEP results to other assessment data. Much of this interest has been centered on linking NAEP to international assessments. The 1992 NAEP mathematics assessment results were successfully linked to those from the International Assessment of Educational Progress (IAEP) of 1991, and the 1996 grade 8 mathematics and science results for NAEP have been linked to the 1995 Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS); there is a separate report of results. The feasibility of linking the 2000 NAEP to the 1999 TIMSS-R has been studied. Various methods for linking NAEP scores to state assessment results have been examined and continue to be explored.

How are NAEP data and assessment results used to further 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, 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 Web site. Research using NAEP data is supported by grants from several sources.

NCES provides support to NAEP coordinators through the NAEP State Service Center. The support takes the form of technical assistance and resources.

How are students with disabilities and English language learners included in the NAEP assessments?

The NAEP program has always endeavored to assess all students selected as a part of its sampling process. In all NAEP schools, accommodations will be provided as necessary for students with disabilities (SD) and/or English language learners (ELL).

Inclusion in NAEP of an SD or ELL student is encouraged if that student (a) participated in the regular state academic assessment in the subject being tested, and (b) if that student can participate in NAEP with the accommodations NAEP allows. Even if the student did not participate in the regular state assessment, or if he/she needs accommodations NAEP does not allow, school staff are asked whether that student could participate in NAEP with the permitted accommodations. (Examples of accommodations that would not be allowed in NAEP are administering the reading assessment in a language other than English, or reading the reading passages aloud to the student. Also, extending testing over several days is not allowed for NAEP because NAEP administrators are in each school only one day.)

How are the results reported to the public?

NAEP has developed a number of different publications and web-based tools that provide direct access to assessment results at the state and national level. For every major assessment release, web-specific content is developed that is suitable to the Web environment.

  • The Nation's Report Card is a Web site developed especially to display the results of each assessment in a clear format and comprehensive manner. To locate this useful information, there are links to the most recent results from any subject information page on this Web site. See, for instance, the link on the mathematics subject page.
  • State Profiles present state-level results and a history of state participation in NAEP. The NAEP Data Explorer and State Comparisons provide comprehensive information on student performance.
  • Explore NAEP Questions links users to the Questions Tool and Item Maps that provide student responses, scoring guides, and other information on the questions that have been released to the public.

Several types of printed reports published by NAEP can be found under publications on the NAEP Web site. These range from the NAEP Report Card, a comprehensive report that contains all the major results for each assessment, to technical reports that contain psychometric details of a national or state assessment.

How can educators use NAEP resources such as frameworks, released questions, and reports in their work?

NAEP materials such as frameworks, released questions, and reports have many uses in the educational community. For instance, frameworks can serve as models for designing an assessment or revising curricula. Also, released constructed-response questions and their corresponding scoring guides can serve as models of innovative assessment practices.

NAEP findings are reported in many publications specifically targeted to educators. Furthermore, NAEP staff host seminars to discuss NAEP results and their implications.

How does NAEP analyze the assessment results?

Before the data are analyzed, responses from the groups of students assessed are assigned sampling weights to ensure that their representation in NAEP results matches their actual percentage of the school population in the grades assessed.

  • Data for national and state NAEP assessments in most subjects are analyzed by a process involving the following steps:
    • Check Item Data and Performance: The data and performance of each item are checked in a number of ways, including scoring reliability checks, item analyses, and differential item functioning (DIF), to assure fair and reliable measures of performance in the subject of the assessment.
    • Set the Scale for Assessment Data: Each subject assessed is divided into subskills, purposes, or content domains specified by the subject framework. Separate scales are developed relating to the content domains in an assessment subject area. A special statistical procedure, Item Response Theory scaling, is used to estimate the measurement characteristics of each assessment question.
    • Estimate Group Performance Results: Because NAEP must minimize the burden of time on students and schools by keeping assessment administration brief, no individual student takes more than a small portion of the assessment for a given content domain. NAEP uses the results of scaling procedures to estimate the performance of groups of students (e.g., of all fourth-grade students in the nation, of female eighth-grade students in a state).
    • Transform Results to the Reporting Scale: Results for assessments conducted in different years are linked to reporting scales to allow comparison of year-to-year trend results for common populations on related assessments.
    • Create a Database: A database is created and used to make comparisons of all results, such as scale scores, percentiles, percentages at or above achievement levels, and comparisons between groups and between years for a group. All comparisons are subjected to testing for statistical significance, and estimates of standard errors are computed for all statistics.

To ensure reliability of NAEP results, extensive quality control and plausibility checks are carefully conducted as part of each analysis step. Quality control tasks are intended to verify that analysis steps have not introduced errors or artifacts into the results. Plausibility checks are intended to encourage thinking about the results, whether they make sense, and what story they tell.

How does NAEP ensure the comparability of results among the state assessments and between the state and national assessments?

NAEP data are collected using a closely monitored and standardized process. The tight controls that guide the data collection process help ensure the comparability of the results generated for the national and the state assessments. All NAEP sessions use the same assessment booklets and identical administration procedures, and contractor staff members direct all sessions during a single calendar assessment period.

The national sample is a combined sample of students assessed in each participating state, plus an additional sample from the states that did not participate in the state assessment, ensuring that the national sample is representative of the total national student population. The full data set is analyzed together, allowing all data to contribute to the final results and setting a single scale for the assessment. All results are then reported in the scale score metric used for the specific assessment. In years with both national and state assessments in the same subjects, the national sample is a subset of the combined sample of public-school students assessed in each participating state, plus an additional sample from the states that did not participate, and a national nonpublic school sample.