I-02c: 12th Graders’ Performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), by Subject, 1998/2005/2009–2019*

* Main NAEP assessment.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) includes two assessments in reading. One of these is specifically designed to generate long-term trend data and has remained essentially unchanged since it was first given to students in 1971. The other, referred to as the “main” NAEP reading assessment and the basis of this indicator, changes in response to current educational practices and curricula. (For a detailed comparison of the two assessments, see

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the federal agency responsible for administering the NAEP, the main NAEP reading assessment “measures a range of reading skills, from identifying explicitly stated information, to making complex inferences about themes, to comparing multiple texts on a variety of dimensions.”

A score at the “basic” level indicates that a student has demonstrated partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade. A score of “proficient” indicates solid academic performance—students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter. An “advanced” score represents superior performance. These achievement scales are grade-specific. Thus, for example, a child scoring at the “advanced” achievement level on the 12th-grade exam in a given subject area has demonstrated different skills than a fourth grader scoring at the “advanced” level. (See for a description of the skills associated with each achievement level.)

The NAEP Data Explorer (NDE) permits analysis of both the long-term trend and main NAEP data sets by gender, ethnicity, and other key variables. With NDE one can also obtain results of recent reading assessments for individual states and compare these with student outcomes in other parts of the country.

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