What is the NAEP?

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., female students, Hispanic 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. This new policy 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.

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

  • directions read aloud
  • extended time
  • test administered in small group or one-on-one

Examples of testing accommodations not allowed in NAEP are:

  • 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 you care?

Since NAEP is the only measure of student performance in key academic areas that is comparable across states, it is important for parents of students with disabilities to be aware of this important information. The results of the 2007 administration were released in September and indicate substantial improvement for students with disabilities.

2007 NAEP results for students with disabilities

The percentage of students with disabilities performing at or above basic, proficient, or advance levels in 4th grade has grown by 14 percent-from 22 percent to 36 percent. Students without disabilities showed an eight percent improvement in the same period. (Source for all results shown: The Nation’s Report Card.)

Performance in reading among 8th graders did not show improvement for either group of students — those with or without disabilities.

As with 4th grade reading, performance in math has shown significant improvement for students with disabilities. The percentage of students with disabilities performing at or above basic, proficient, or advance levels in 4th grade math has doubled between 1996 and 2007 — from 30 percent to 60 percent. Improvement among students without disabilities was 16 percent for the same period.

Among 8th graders, the percentage of students with disabilities performing at or above basic, proficient, or advance levels has grown by 13 percent — from 21 percent to 34 percent, while students without disabilities showed an eight percent improvement in the same period.

While far fewer students with disabilities are performing at or above the basic level in reading and math, the results of the 2007 NAEP indicate that this group of students is advancing in academic performance at a much faster rate than students without disabilities. Much of this improvement might be attributed to the increased assess to the general education curriculum brought about by changes in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This increased access to instruction, combined with strong accountability resulting from the “Adequate Yearly Progress” requirements of No Child Left Behind, is delivering substantial improvement in academic performance for students with disabilities.

Take a look at the NAEP results for students with disabilities in your state. Compare those results to the national results above and to the rate of improvement for students without disabilities. See The Nation’s Report Card for details.

© Copyright 2008 by EP Global Communications. Originally published in Exceptional Parent Magazine in December 2007. Reprinted with the expressed consent and approval of Exceptional Parent, a monthly magazine for parents and families of children with disabilities and health care needs.