Understanding NAEP: Inside the Nation's Education Report Card

Explainers | October 23, 2007
Cover Image for "NAEP Explainer"

Even in this era of high-stakes testing, there remains only one test that promises to measure student achievement across the country, across demographic groups, and across decades: the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often referred to as the "Nation's Report Card." NAEP data are used by researchers, reporters, and policymakers as the best way to measure student performance.

But what NAEP can and cannot tell us about student performance is often not well understood. The test design is technically complicated, leading to difficulty in interpreting and reporting its results. Scores, for instance, can not always be compared across grade levels or even across subjects. While a score of 240 on a fourth-grade reading test might indicate a student is proficient, the same score on an eighth-grade math assessment could mean the student is below proficiency.

Understanding NAEP: Inside the Nations Report Card helps clarify many of the issues related to this important measurement tool:

  • What was the test designed to measure? What is it not able to measure?
  • How are NAEP scores calculated? What do they mean?
  • Are NAEP scores reliable? Does the low-stakes nature of the test affect student performance?
  • What are the trends in student achievement as measured by NAEP?

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.