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Understanding NAEP

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is an exam given periodically to 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-graders. It assesses student knowledge in mathematics, reading, science, writing, the arts, civics, economics, geography, and U.S. history.

NAEP is the only nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in various subject areas. It is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the U.S. Department of Education. The National Assessment Governing Board External Web Site Policy (NAGB) governs testing policy. It is appointed by the Secretary of Education and is composed of a wide spectrum of stakeholders including governors, educators, members of the business community, and parents.

Since NAEP assessments are administered uniformly using the same sets of test booklets across the nation, NAEP results serve as a common metric for all states and selected urban districts. The assessment stays essentially the same from year to year, with only carefully documented changes. This permits NAEP to provide a clear picture of student academic progress over time.

When conducting only a national assessment, approximately 6,000 to 10,000 students per grade are assessed for each subject. When state data are being collected, NAEP typically selects 3,000 students in approximately 100 schools in each state for each grade and subject.

NAEP is probably the most widely cited data source for student achievement in the United States. As with any assessment, there are criticisms of the test, and its findings have been applied in contexts for which they were never designed. Nevertheless, because it’s administered nationwide, it’s an important source of data. It can be used to compare the progress and achievement of students among states and demographic groups, particularly in the context of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). It’s also the only national longitudinal assessment of student achievement.

The 2005 12th grade science proficiency levels reproduced below illustrate the types of knowledge and of skills that NAEP seeks to measure. (NAEP, 2007).

  • Basic - Students some knowledge and certain reasoning abilities required for understanding the Earth, physical, and life sciences at a level appropriate to grade 12. In addition, they demonstrate knowledge of the themes of science (models, systems, and patterns of change) required for understanding the most basic relationships among the Earth, physical, and life sciences. They are able to conduct investigations, critique the design of investigations, and demonstrate a rudimentary understanding of scientific principles.
  • Proficient - Students demonstrate the knowledge and reasoning abilities required for understanding the Earth, physical, and life sciences at a level appropriate to grade 12. In addition, they demonstrate knowledge of the themes of science (models, systems, and patterns of change) required for understanding how these themes illustrate essential relationships among the Earth, physical, and life sciences. They are able to analyze data and apply scientific principles to everyday situations.
  • Advanced - Students demonstrate the knowledge and reasoning abilities required for a solid understanding of the Earth, physical, and life sciences at a level appropriate to grade 12. In addition, they demonstrate knowledge of the themes of science (models, systems, and patterns of change) required for integrating knowledge of scientific principles from the Earth, physical, and life sciences. Students can design investigations that answer questions about real-world situations and use their reasoning abilities to make predictions.

To view national and state by state test data see:

To learn more about the test and how to interpret the data see:

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