NAEP: The Nation’s Report Card

January 22, 1992 4 min read

Forty-eight percent of all test-takers got the correct answer; 73% of students at the proficient level answered correctly.

Until 1988, NAEP was limited to measuring student progress on a national basis. That year, Congress authorized trial assessments at the state level in order to provide data allowing states to compare themselves with one another and with other nations in international comparisons. In 1990, 37 states participated in the first state assessment for 8th grade math. Two years later, 43 states provided student samples for testing in 4th and 8th grade math and 4th grade reading. In 1994, 4th grade reading assessments were conducted in 39 states. Forty-five states participated in the 1996 math assessments, the results of which will be released early this year.

Known as the nation’s report card, NAEP is now the only assessment that provides student scores that are comparable among the participating states and can be used to monitor trends in student achievement over time.

NAEP assessments include both multiple-choice questions and performance tasks that require students to demonstrate directly what they can do, such as writing an essay, making a map, or solving a math problem.

NAEP summarizes the results of its assessments on a proficiency scale that ranges from 0 to 500. Student’s scores on that scale also place them into an achievement level-advanced, proficient, basic, or below basic.

The NAEP achievement levels are based on the collective judgments of a broadly representative panel of teachers and others about what students should know and be able to do in a particular subject at a specific grade level. The achievement levels are cumulative-that is, the proficient level assumes mastery of the basic level and the advanced level presumes mastery of both the basic and proficient levels.

Students who read or do mathematics at the proficient level are capable of solid academic performance for their grades. They demonstrate competency over challenging subject matter, including knowledge of the subject and application of it to real-world situations. They also demonstrate analytical skills appropriate to the subject matter. Students at the advanced level do superior work.

Students who perform at the basic level achieve only partial mastery of the knowledge and skills needed for proficient work at each grade. Students who read or do math at the basic level, for example, may have some difficulty doing grade-level work. Students who score below basic in reading and math are likely to have serious difficulty doing grade-level work in their academic courses as they move through school.

Below are sample questions for 4th grade readers and two sample math problems for 8th graders.


Students read “Hungry Spider and the Turtle,” a West African folktale that humorously depicts hunger and hospitality through actions and conversations of two very distinct characters. The ravenous and generous turtle who is tricked out of a meal by the gluttonous and greedy spider finds a way to tum the tables and teach the spider a lesson.

Question: Who do you think would make a better friend, spider or turtle? Explain why.

Sample response: “I think turtle because instead of get angry with spider he just pad [sic) him a lesson.” This was an acceptable response because the student identified the character who would make a better friend and supported his choice with evidence from the story.

Sixty-two percent of all the test-takers answered correctly; 70% of the students who achieved at the basic level got the right answer; and 80% of the students who achieved at the proficient level answered correctly.

Question: Why did spider invite turtle to share his food?

A. To amuse himself B. To be kind and helpful C. To have company at dinner D. To appear generous

Forty percent of all test-takers chose D, the right answer; 45% of students at the basic level answered correctly; and 73% at the proficient level answered correctly.

Question: Think about spider and turtle In the story. Pick someone you know, have read about, or has been in the movies or on television and explain how that person is like either spider or turtle.

Sample response: “A boy named Patrick in the book called Indian in the Cupboard. He is selfish like spider. He wants all the plastic toys. A girl named Omri im [sic] that book is not selfish. She’s willing to share the toys with Patrick.” On a scale of 1 to 4, With 1 being unsatisfactory, this answer received a 3.

Sample response: “I think spider reminds me of the rabbit In the book The Great Race because the rabbit thought that he could trick and beat the turtle easily. Turtle reminds me of the turtle in The Great Race because the turtle outsmarted the rabbit and won the race.” This response received a 4.

Twenty-nine percent of all test-takers scored 3 or above; 33% of students at the basic level scored 3 or above; and 54% of students at the proficient level scored 3 or above.


Problem: Jill needs to earn $45 for a class trip. She earns $2 each day on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays; and $3 each day on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. She does not work on Sundays. How many weeks Will it take her to earn $45?

Answer: 3 weeks

Fifty-nine percent of all test-takers got the correct answer; 64% of students at the basic level answered correctly.


Problem: Tracy sad, “I can multiply 6 by another number and get an answer that is smaller than 6.” Pat said, “No, you can’t. Multiplying 6 by another number always makes the number 6 or larger.” Who is correct? Give a reason for your answer.

Answer: Tracy is correct. If you multiply the number 6 by any number less than 1, the answer will always be less than 6.

Forty-eight percent of all test-takers got the correct answer; 73% of students at the proficient level answered correctly.