NCES is considering a variety of changes to the NAEP system that would allow the assessments to not only measure how students are doing, but why they are performing at certain levels and identify educational efforts that work [source: Finn].
One way administrators are doing that is by expanding the background questions asked of test takers and analyzing relationships between responses and performance. For example, a report on the 2011 science assessment shows that students who frequently worked "hands on" in science projects and classroom investigations generally scored higher than those who did not [sources: Finn,NCES].
These efforts, as one may imagine, have also drawn criticism from spectators who say that NAEP should simply report scores, rather than trying to diagnose the reasons for them. Education policy is messy, highly politicized territory, these critics say, and NCES should stick to what it does best [source: Finn].
At the same time, administrators and policy makers want to know how American students stack up against others around the world. NCES is examining ways to link and compare NAEP scores to those by students on similar international assessments. A recent study of 45 countries showed that in only six of them would a majority of students score "proficient" on NAEP's eighth-grade math test [sources: NCES, FairTest].
NCES is also looking to ensure that the assessments test relevant skills necessary for students to be prepared to compete in a global economy. In 2014, select students will for the first time take the new NAEP technology and engineering literacy assessment, an exam designed to gauge students' knowledge of technological principles, as well as their ability to use the principles to communicate and solve problems. The TEL assessment is the first completely computer-based NAEP test. It will include interactive scenario-based tasks, such as observing video of a model ecosystem and being asked to identify certain organisms [sources: NAEP, National Assessment Governing Board].
Author's Note: How the NAEP Works
If Americans are doing poorly on tests like the NAEP, it's not for lack of test taking. Nor is there a national drought on anxiety about test taking, if I am any example. Depending on how you look at it, I'm either one of those greatly blessed, highly unlucky or just plain weird people who never remembers his dreams. I occasionally wake up in the middle of the night and think "that sure was strange" about whatever bizarre scenario I had cooking in my head while catching some zzzs, but by the time morning comes it's been pushed to the non-graspable recesses of my brain. There are two exceptions to this rule. The first is a recurring dream in which I realize that I've completely forgotten to study for some extremely difficult and incredibly important exam which will no doubt determine the course of my life for decades to come. It typically ends in me sprinting in a mad dash toward some mythical classroom where I am doomed to burn out in a blaze of complete and utter failure. The other exception is the dream where I am falling to my untimely death and awake just before hitting the ground. I prefer that one.
- FairTest. "Would Foreign Students Score Proficient on NAEP?" (May 2, 2013) http://fairtest.org/would-foreign-students-score-proficient-naep
- Finn, Chester. "NAEP: thermometer or diagnostician?" Thomas B. Fordham Institute. May 17, 2012. (April 28, 2013) http://www.edexcellence.net/commentary/education-gadfly-weekly/2012/may-17/naep-thermometer-or-diagnostician.html
- Harvey, James. "NAEP: A flawed benchmark producing the same old story." The Washington Post. Nov. 4, 2011. (April 28, 2013) http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/naep-a-flawed-benchmark-producing-the-same-old-story/2011/11/03/gIQAbnonmM_blog.html
- Hobart, Susan. "One Teacher's Cry: Why I Hate No Child Left Behind." The Progressive. Aig. 2008. (May 2, 2013) http://progressive.org/mag/hobart0808.html
- Hull, Jim. "The proficiency debate: A guide to NAEP achievement levels." The Center for Public Education. June 17, 2008. (April 28, 2013) http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Evaluating-performance/The-proficiency-debate-At-a-glance/The-proficiency-debate-A-guide-to-NAEP-achievement-levels.html
- National Assessment Governing Board. "2011 Nation's Report Cards Show Highest Mathematics Scores to Date for Fourth and Eighth Graders; Reading Performance Is Mixed with Fourth Grade Scores Flat." (April 28, 2013) http://nationsreportcard.gov/subject/_commonobjects/media/pdf/pressrelease_reading_and_math_2011.pdf
- National Assessment Governing Board. "Student Performance Standards on the National Assessment of Educational Progress." November 2000. (April 28, 2013) http://www.nagb.org/content/nagb/assets/documents/publications/studentperfstandard.pdf
- National Assessment Governing Board. "Video Clips of Sample Scenarios." (April 28, 2013) http://www.nagb.org/assets/documents/publications/frameworks/tech2014-framework/ch_video/index.html
- National Assessment of Educational Progress. "Mathematics: Summary of Major Findings." (April 28, 2013) http://www.nationsreportcard.gov/math_2011/summary.aspx
- National Assessment of Educational Progress. "Top Stories in NAEP Reading 2011." (April 28, 2013) http://nationsreportcard.gov/reading_2011/
- National Assessment of Educational Progress. "Reading: Summary of Major Findings." (April 28, 2013) http://www.nationsreportcard.gov/reading_2011/summary.aspx
- National Assessment of Educational Progress. "Sample Questions." (May 2, 2013) http://nationsreportcard.gov/math_2011/sample_quest.asp
- National Center for Education Statistics. "An Introduction to NAEP." (April 28, 2013) http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/parents/2010468.pdf
- National Center for Education Statistics. "NAEP Overview." (April 28, 2013) http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/
- National Center for Education Statistics. "Science 2011." May 2012. (April 28, 2013) http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/main2011/2012465.pdf
- National Center for Education Statistics. "The NAEP Primer: A Technical History of NAEP." (April 28, 2013) http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/newnaephistory.aspx#beginning
- National Center for Education Statistics. "What does the NAEP technology and engineering literacy (TEL) assessment measure?" Nov. 28, 2012. (April 28, 2013) http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/tel/whatmeasure.aspx
- Strauss, Valerie. "What the new NAEP test results really tell us." The Washington Post. Nov. 1, 2011. (April 28, 2013) http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/what-the-new-naep-test-results-really-tell-us/2011/11/01/gIQADSOtcM_blog.html
- Whitehurst, Grover J. "Is 'No Child Left Behind' Working?" The Brookings Institution. March 24, 2010. (April 28, 2013) http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2010/03/24-naep-whitehurst