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National Assessment of Educational Progress

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Overview of NAEP

What is NAEP?

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as "The Nation's Report Card," is the only nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in various subjects. NAEP assesses representative samples of students in grades 4, 8, and 12.

Why is NAEP important?

Long considered to be the "gold standard" of assessments, NAEP serves as the federal government's official measure of how well students in Massachusetts and across the nation are performing in core academic subjects over time. Additionally, NAEP has taken on a greater prominence under the No Child Left Behind Act and serves to externally confirm results of state assessments, such as the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).

What is the difference between national NAEP and state NAEP?

Since 1969, NAEP has conducted national assessments periodically in the following subject areas: reading, mathematics, science, writing, U.S. history, civics, geography, and the arts.

State-level NAEP assessments began in 1990 as a way to generate reports on student performance in participating states. The state NAEP assessments, which are identical in content to national NAEP assessments, are conducted at grades 4 and 8 in four subject areas: reading, mathematics, science, and writing. In 2009, 11 states, including Massachusetts, volunteered to participate in a grade 12 reading and mathematics pilot which provided grade 12 state-level data for the first time. Since 2002, the national NAEP public school sample has been composed of all the state samples of public school students.

My school has been chosen for NAEP. Is participation in NAEP mandatory?

The Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 mandates the Board of Education to ensure the participation of Massachusetts public schools selected for participation in NAEP. As an additional requirement, federal law requires states and school districts that receive funds under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to participate in all activities related to the biennial NAEP assessments at grades 4 and 8 in reading and mathematics.

Does the state select the schools that will participate in NAEP?

No. As part of a contract with the U.S. Department of Education, Westat, a statistical survey research organization located in Rockville, MD, selects the schools and students that will participate in NAEP.

How are schools selected for NAEP?

NAEP uses a multistage sampling design that relies on stratification (i.e., classification into groups having similar characteristics) to choose samples of schools and students. Samples are randomly selected from groups of schools that have been classified according to variables such as the extent of urbanization, the percentage of minority enrollment, and school-level performance results on state assessments.

Why are some schools always selected for NAEP?

The following explanation on why some schools are selected more frequently than others is excerpted from the Sample Design FAQ on The Nation's Report Card Web site: "NAEP usually selects 100 public schools in each state for each subject at each grade for the sample-each school would then represent about 1% of the students in public schools in the grade being assessed in that state. If a school is chosen repeatedly, typically it is because they have more than 1% of the enrollment in the grade. Other schools, with 0.5%-1% of the enrollment, are not always selected, but it probably seems like it (and if they are not selected, they are probably listed as a substitute school)."

What is the Trial District Urban Assessment (TUDA)?

In 2002, the National Assessment Governing Board, the National Center for Education Statistics, and the Council of Great City Schools collaborated to develop a study to test the feasibility of a district-level NAEP assessment. That year, as part of the main NAEP assessment, NAEP oversampled the student population of five urban districts (Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City) in order to generate district-level NAEP results for those cities.

NAEP's Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) was expanded from five to nine districts in 2003. The four new districts that year included Boston, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Cleveland, and San Diego. The number of urban districts participating in NAEP has substantially increased since 2005. In 2015, 21 districts plan to participate in NAEP.

The Student Experience

Do all students in a school selected for NAEP participate in testing?

No. In 2015, in schools participating in the paper and pencil version of NAEP, roughly one-third of the sampled students will take a reading test, another 30 will take a math test, and another 30 will take a science test. In schools selected to take the NAEP technology-based assessment, 50 students will be sampled.

If a student is selected for NAEP, must he/she participate?

Student participation in NAEP is voluntary. Under federal law, parental notification by schools prior to testing is required to inform families that students who are sampled for the assessment may opt not to participate. To ensure that Massachusetts is part of NAEP, and that educators, parents, policymakers, and citizens can learn how Massachusetts performs compared to other states and the nation as a whole, it is very important that all students selected for NAEP actually participate.

How much time is required of students participating in NAEP?

Students selected to participate in the NAEP pencil and pencil version will take a 50-minute test in one subject area. Students also complete a short background questionnaire. In all, no more than 90 minutes is required for the entire experience. Students selected to take the test on a NAEP supplied tablet may take a little longer to complete the assessment.

Does each student take the entire NAEP test?

No. Each student selected for NAEP takes only a portion of the entire test in one subject area. For instance, in 2013, a 4th grade student chosen for NAEP reading was administered two 25-minute sets, or blocks, of reading items. The entire NAEP reading assessment consisted of ten 25-minute blocks of items.

NAEP uses matrix sampling, where selected students take a subset of the entire set of test items for that grade level, in order to provide a comprehensive assessment of the subject area tested while also reducing the burden on each individual student.

Do students with disabilities and students with limited English proficiency participate in NAEP?

Yes, students with disabilities and LEP students who are chosen for NAEP do participate in the tests. Students with disabilities are provided testing accommodations similar those provided on MCAS.

According to NAEP's policy, LEP students are assessed unless the student has received instruction in English for fewer than three school years and the student cannot demonstrate his or her knowledge of reading or mathematics in English even with permissible accommodations.

Do students receive a score or report card of their performance on NAEP?

No. Individual student and school results on NAEP are never reported. Only state-level results for Massachusetts and district-level results for the Boston Public Schools will be reported for the 2015 NAEP assessments in reading and mathematics.

Who administers the NAEP to students?

NAEP field staffs, hired by the U.S. Department of Education, visit schools and administer all assessment sessions. School officials, including classroom teachers, may sit in to observe the assessments.

Schools Chosen for NAEP

What subjects will be assessed in 2015?

The 2015 NAEP assessments will include tests in reading and mathematics at grades 4, 8, and 12. Science will also be administered at grades 4 and 8.

Where can selected schools find out more information about NAEP?

In the fall, each school that is selected for NAEP will receive a log-in and password to access the MyNAEP Web site (MyNAEP). The MyNAEP Web site provides specific details about the school's participation in the NAEP assessment.

Additional Information

Where can I learn more about NAEP?
For more information, please visit the Nation's Report Card Web site.

Whom should schools contact for more information about NAEP?
Schools with NAEP related questions and concerns may contact Rebecca Bennett, Massachusetts NAEP State Coordinator, at 781-338-3617 or via email at

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Last Updated: August 20, 2014
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