HomeLearning DifficultiesLegal Rights & Advocacy

National Assessment of Educational Progress: An overview

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the only nationally representative and continuing assessment of students' knowledge and performance in certain subject areas. Results include achievement data for populations of students (e.g., 4th graders) and groups within those populations (including students with disabilities).

By Candace Cortiella, The Advocacy Institute

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.

Candace Cortiella's work as Director of the nonprofit The Advocacy Institute focuses on improving the lives of people with learning disabilities, through public policy and other initiatives. The mother of a young adult with learning disabilities, she lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

Comments from readers

"I think the no child left behind is a way to make schools and the goverment feel better. I had my son tested in 5th grade at the request of his teacher and was told that he did not qualify for any extra help. He went in middle school and did great, came out with a 3.0 GPA. And then came high school, at the end of his freshman year he had a 2.0, I requested to have him tested again and 4 months later we received the results. He now is working with a speech and language teacher as a sophmore, and is doing better. He has so many holes and tries so hard, it breaks my heart to watch him. I am so afraid he is going to give up and not graduate. He does have 2 tudors for english and algebra. I love this web site, it does help me understand my son. I feel like the schools are letting our children down. "
"I think the Nation's Report Card is just to make the schools look good, they don't really care whether your child is learning or not. My child was severly delayed, and didn't start reading, I begged the schools to help my child to give her spelling words, they claimed they didn't use Spelling books, you get your Spelling in Reading, so if you don't read, you don't learn to Spell, you don't learn defininitions. When the Reading Competinancy Test was given she couldn't read the test. She had always had everything read to her and in the 6th grade she failed the reading test, which your child never has another chance to take again. She cried all thru the test because up to this point the test was read to her, now it could be read, she had to read to her. We ordered Hooked on Phonics and she learned to read, but now she is a High School student, and she skips over larger words, because she missed out on so much. Unless the parents tutor their children they don't get the! help they need. Even in High School, she was told she couldn't ever take the Reading test again, she is in Special Ed most of the day, because her REading and Writing and Math and so low. The schools were an injustice to my child. She is about 6 years delayed, she was speech and language delayed, was in speech since age 2, and didn't talk in complete sentences until 1st grade. The NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND is a CROCK!! its just to pass the kids on, and get them out of school, IN NORTH Carolina kids have to pick a track in high school, my daughter is on an Occupational track, which because she didn't have harder classes, she had to do 240 hrs school based work hours around the community, and 360 work hours at Min. Wage to receive a Diploma from high school, or she only gets a Certificate, this is very unfair, how many other kids have to tutuor to get the things they need, because they are delayed and then they have to work to have a diploma. Now with very few jobs, ! they are in competition with adults for jobs, and having hard ! time fin ding a job, even with VR working with her to find a job. If she doesn't work by the time she graduates next spring, she gets a certificate. Which is not fair to her. She has had to work harder in school to keep up in class. I think they should do away with NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND and the National Report CARD!"
"I don't necessarily agree with these findings. I think that students with disabilities are performing better because many parents are remediating their children privately outside of the school system because they can't appropriate services for their children through the school system. Often at great personal sacrifice, families provide appropriate instruction because the alternative is unthinkable, allowing a child's self esteem to be sacrificed in the process of waiting until they qualify for help. Children with disabilities may be performing better on standardized tests, but much of it may be as a direct result from services provided outside the school system by parents."