National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—commonly called the Nation's Report Card—is the largest nationally representative assessment of what America's students know and can do in various subject areas including mathematics, reading, and science. A sample of students is selected to take the test. Since a sample group of students from each state take the test, NAEP results serve as a common metric for all states across the nation. Also, because the assessment stays essentially the same from year to year, it provides a clear picture of student academic progress over time. Learn more about NAEP from the National Center for Education Statistics.

On the NAEP test, Tennessee has been the fastest improving state since 2011, with students showing more growth over time than students in any other state. Thanks to the hard work of educators and students, Tennessee is on the right track toward long-term success. 

Frequently Asked Questions about NAEP

NAEP produces The Nation’s Report Card and is considered the gold standard for large-scale assessment. Since a representative sample of students from each state take NAEP, it allows Tennesseans to see how our students are performing compared to peers in other states.

NAEP assessments began in 1969 and are sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. They are conducted periodically in reading, math, science, writing, U.S. history, civics, geography, and other subjects. Tennessee has participated since 1992.

NAEP results—especially on the math and reading assessments that are given every two years—are widely reported and are an important national indicator of state-level and national progress of education. NAEP gives us a good sense of the direction the nation is moving and provides valuable data with long-term trends.

Like any assessment, we want to learn from these results. Formal assessments, like NAEP, provide one window into how our students are performing, but there are additional methods through which we can all check to make sure students are on track to be successful.

These results certainly give us a reason to celebrate, but they also underscore the importance of continuing to grow by focusing on our areas for improvement, like strengthening literacy skills and improving education outcomes for all students in all subgroups. The department announced a new strategic plan in October 2015, called Tennessee Succeeds, which outlines strategies in five priority areas. Among these are Early Foundations & Literacy and All Means All. These priority areas are aligned with the areas for improvement, like literacy, which is evident in testing results, as well as other areas of importance, like postsecondary success.

The best preparation for NAEP is strong instruction every day. Even though NAEP is a national test and thus does not completely align with Tennessee State Standards, it tests cumulative knowledge of students up to a certain grade level. Teaching to the Tennessee Academic Standards will help us to hold high expectations for every child and to make sure we are on track for success.

NAEP has thousands of previous test questions posted on their site. Teachers can utilize practice test questions in their classrooms.

Only a small number of students from sample of public schools take NAEP. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) administers NAEP and ensures that a representative set of students is assessed. NCES selects a sample of schools that reflect the varying demographics of each state. Within each selected school, students are chosen at random. Every student has the same chance of being chosen—regardless of race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, status as an English language learner, or any other factors. Schools that receive federal Title I funding are required by law to participate.

To ensure the validity of the results, states, districts, and schools are not allowed to pick the schools or students who are assessed.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) uses a systematic process to ensure the sample of public school students represents our state’s unique demographics. They first look at all of the public schools in a specific state; sort those schools based on location, racial and ethnic diversity, and student achievement. Then, they select a representative sample. Schools with large enrollments are more likely to be selected because their students represent a larger proportion of the state’s overall student population.

In each sampled school, a list is compiled of all students within the grade to be assessed. From this list, a sample of students is randomly selected by NCES. Every student in a sampled school has an equal chance of being selected. After the sample is drawn, students are assigned a single subject area in which to answer questions. NAEP staff members work with the school to verify the accuracy of student demographic information.

NAEP is not designed to show individual results. Since the first NAEP assessment in 1969, students’ names have been kept completely confidential. After students complete the assessment, their names are physically removed from the booklets and never leave their schools. Instead of reporting individual scores, NAEP reports overall results for the nation, the states, and for demographic groups of students.

NAEP has transitioned to a fully digital format. Students take NAEP on tablet computers provided by NAEP. There is no need to use school computers or internet access. A small number of students may take NAEP on paper.

NAEP is designed to be minimally disruptive for students, teachers, and schools. Students spend up to 90 minutes on most NAEP assessments. This includes setting up, taking the assessment (up to 60 minutes), and getting back to instructional activities. NAEP representatives work with the designated coordinator in each school to organize assessment activities.

NAEP is a big picture test. It gives us a good sense of the direction the nation is moving in education and provides critical long-term trending data.

Only a small number of students in Tennessee take NAEP, only within certain grades, and only in certain years. Because just a group of students take it and only some schools participate, it is not possible to see individual student performance or to know school-level or even district-level outcomes—both of which we can do with TCAP tests. NAEP only gives an overview of state achievement and performance among larger subgroups.

While NAEP is seen as one of the most rigorous assessments, it is a nationwide test, so it is not fully aligned with our state’s academic standards for what students should know by a specific year; therefore, performance on NAEP cannot necessarily be translated to how students will perform on state assessments. NAEP assessments also look at cumulative knowledge, not what students have learned in a specific course. For example, when fourth graders take the NAEP assessment in math, the test covers all the math knowledge that a fourth grader could have learned up to that point, not necessarily what they learned that year in class.

TCAP assessments, on the other hand, are aligned with the Tennessee Academic Standards. TCAP allows students to demonstrate what they learned over the course of the current year, based on our state’s expectations for what students need to know and be able to do for a particular subject and grade level. TCAP assessments show how individual students perform, as well as how students at a specific school are performing, which will help us know where to target additional support and where we can learn from what is going right. It helps us make sure every single student is on track to be successful when they leave school.

Together, NAEP and TCAP help us make sure our students are prepared to be successful on whatever path they choose to pursue in life—whether that be here in Tennessee or across the nation.

After each assessment, NAEP releases dozens of sample questions to the public—more than 3,000 questions are currently available. They can be found through the main NAEP website.

There is a wealth of additional information and answers at

Parents and educators can view Tennessee’s and the nation’s history on NAEP by going to the following website: