Sharing Resources: Overview of the NAEP Assessment

James A. Telese, University of Texas, Brownsville

The Nation's Report Card

You may have seen this title often because the National Center for Education Statistics conducts a continual assessment of our nation’s students in several subjects, most notably, in mathematics. Currently, it is administered in a paper and pencil format. Beginning in 2017, NAEP will begin administering a technology-based assessment.  

Students are selected from a complex, random sampling process. Teachers of students who are selected are administered a teacher questionnaire. This results in a pairing of students, who are administered the assessment and their teachers, in grades 4, 8, and 12. 

The assessment in mathematics measures students' knowledge and skills in five content strands:

  • Number properties and operations,
  • Measurement,
  • Geometry,
  • Data analysis, statistics, and probability, and 
  • Algebra,

It also assesses students' ability to apply their knowledge in problem-solving situations. Moreover, items are classified according to cognitive complexity: Low, Moderate, and High. Low complexity relies heavily on the recall and recognition of previously learned concepts and principles. Moderate complexity items require students to be more flexible in their thinking than do those in the low-complexity category; these responses go beyond a seemingly obvious solution method, and they ordinarily involve more than a single-step. The items tend to foster the use of informal reasoning methods and problem-solving strategies. High complexity items make heavy demands on students, who must engage in more abstract reasoning, planning, analysis, judgment, and creative thought.

Students’ performance on these items is based on a scale score. The scale was developed using Item Response Theory, and it ranges from 0–500 at grades 4 and 8 and from 0–300 at grade 12. A score is provided for each content strand, and a composite score is also provided as an overall measure of performance.

The result of this is a large database that can be accessed by educational researchers and policy makers. There are two methods. One method involves the NAEP website, where researchers and policy makers can analyze data available to the general public. A second method is obtaining a license to use the restricted database. It is recommended that those interested in using the restricted database attend training sessions.  The author of this article recently attended the last face-to-face training held May 26-29, 2015. It was reported at the session that future training will be on-line using modules. So, for those who wish to gain insight into the performance of our students in mathematics and other factors related to mathematics instruction, one can use the released data or mine the restricted database in order to answer research and policy questions. Who knows what you may reveal?