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Advocacy In Action

Issue 9
April 2010

National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP):
What Is It and Why Should We Care?

What Is It?

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the only nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in various subject areas. As such, NAEP data provide reliable comparisons of performance among states, urban districts, public and private schools, and student demographic groups. Assessments are conducted periodically in mathematics, reading, science, writing, the arts, civics, economics, geography, and U.S. history. A congressionally mandated project, the NAEP is overseen by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) within the U.S. Department of Education.

Findings are released in the form of the “Nation’s Report Card” and provide a wealth of information for educators, parents, policymakers, and the media. Results are provided regarding subject matter achievement for populations of students (e.g., 4th graders) and groups within those populations (e.g., Black students, Hispanic students, low-income students, students with disabilities). Not all students participate in the NAEP. Results are based on a sample of students from every state. Students are selected on a random basis then school staff makes final decisions on who should participate.

The privacy of individual students is protected, and the identities of participating schools are not released. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 required all states to participate in the NAEP, which provides comparable information across all states and within many student groups.

Prior to 1996, NAEP did not allow accommodations for students with disabilities, resulting in a significant under-representation of this important student group. However, following the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as amended in 1997, states and school districts began to identify increasing numbers of students as requiring accommodations in assessments in order to fairly and accurately show their abilities. NAEP responded by beginning to allow most accommodations that students received in their usual classroom testing (see below). This policy change allowed higher levels of participation of students with disabilities—providing a rich source of information on the performance of this group of students in key academic areas, the change in their performance over time, and a comparison of their performance across states and across student groups. Still, the exclusion rate for students with disabilities remains unacceptably high - 28% of those selected to participate in the 2009 Reading sample were excluded for various reasons - and the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) has been reviewing ways to improve the participation rate of students with disabilities.

Examples of some of the most frequently used accommodations on the NAEP include:

Examples of testing accommodations not allowed in NAEP are:

  • directions read aloud
  • extended time
  • test administered in small group or one-on-one
  • reading the reading passages aloud to the student
  • extending testing over several days (because NAEP administrators are in each school only one day)

Why Should We Care?

Since NAEP is the only measure of student performance in key academic areas that is comparable across states, it is important for parents and advocates to be aware of this important information. The results of the 2009 administration for 4th and 8th grade Reading were released in March 2010. While there was no improvement between 2007 and 2009 for overall students, students with disabilities at the eighth grade level showed significant improvement - an increase of 3 percentage points for those reading at or above basic (35% to 38%). While significant achievement gaps remain, students with disabilities are improving in basic reading performance according to NAEP.

National results for student groups in 2009 Reading appears below with 2007 results in parentheses.

22 [22]
78 [78]
52 [54]
48 [46]
51 [50]
49 [50]
Low Income
49 [50]
51 [50]
Students with Disabilities
65 [64]
35 [36]


16 [16]
84 [84]
43 [45]
57 [55]
39 [42]
61 [58]
Low Income
40 [42]
60 [58]
Students with Disabilities
62 [65]
38 [35]

Performance on NAEP Reading vary significantly across states. For example, for fourth-grade reading, the worst performing state was Hawaii where just 11% of students with disabilities are reading at or above basic and only 3% were at or above proficient while in Maryland and Massachusetts 54% of students with disabilities were at or above basic and 21% were at or above proficient. In eighth grade reading, the District of Columbia had the worst performance with 85% of students with disabilities reading below basic and just 2% reading at or above proficient, while Massachusetts 39% of students with disabilities were below basic and 18% were at or above proficient.

Since NAEP performance is comparable across states (unlike student achievement on state assessments required by No Child Left Behind), parents and advocates should look carefully at the NAEP performance in their state compared to the national results above.

Grades 4 and 8 Percentage of Students with Disabilities Identified, Excluded and Assessed 2009
State-by-state performance
:: 2009 vs. 2007 :: Reading Grade 4
State-by-state performance :: 2009 vs. 2007 :: Reading Grade 8

More information is available at

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