New Study Examines Alignment Between NAEP and Common Core State Standards in 4th, 8th Grade Mathematics

Washington, D.C. – A new study of the alignment between the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), adopted by most states, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the longtime barometer of academic achievement among the nation’s students, found “reasonable agreement” overall but also some areas of 4th and 8th grade math where there was less of a match.

The study, the second in a series of three examining the relationship between NAEP and the Common Core State Standards in math, was conducted by 18 math educators, supervisors and mathematicians convened by the NAEP Validity Studies Panel (NVS), an independent panel charged with examining issues related to the validity of the NAEP assessments. The 2015 NAEP results, which will be released on Oct. 28, will be the first to reflect efforts in many states to shift instruction toward Common Core State Standards. (Nearly all states have formally adopted some version of the CCSS.)

The expert panel found that 79 percent of NAEP items in 4th grade math assessed content included in the CCSS at grade 4 or below. However, the match rate was lower in some areas: 47% for data analysis, statistics, and probability, 62% for algebra and 68% for geometry.

In the 8th grade, 87 percent of NAEP items assessed math included in the CCSS at grade 8 or below—a degree of alignment the report described as “strong.” At the same time, the authors found that 42 percent of the Common Core State Standards for grades 6, 7, and 8 were not being tested by any items in the 2015 NAEP item pool. The report’s authors suggest that the National Assessment Governing Board, the bipartisan body that sets policy for the testing program, consider adding content from these areas to NAEP’s mathematics framework when it is next revised.

The experts found that most of the differences reflect the CCSS’s intention to shift instruction in certain topics to later grades. The extent to which instruction has actually been aligned with the CCSS is beyond the scope of the study, which examines only the relationship between test items and standards. The authors note that changing standards is far simpler and faster than the arduous process of changing curriculum and instruction.

“The Common Core State Standards are more focused than previous standards in their attempt to create a coherent progression in mathematics instruction from elementary to high school,” said Fran Stancavage, a managing researcher at AIR and co-author of the report. “Consequently, it is not surprising to find these differences in emphasis between the CCSS and the NAEP framework, which was last revised more than 10 years ago.”

NAEP, known for offering a dependable measure of national student progress over time, has always had to strike a balance between remaining independent of passing fashions in curriculum and instruction while also appropriately reflecting important shifts in the educational landscape, according to the report. While it is too early to know how the implementation of the Common Core State Standards will play out over the next several years, the authors point out that most states are already using CCSS-aligned assessments for the purposes of educational accountability.

“We are at a time in education when teachers, administrators and students are grappling with the changes brought about by many states’ move to new, more rigorous standards that will prepare our students for college and work,” said George Bohrnstedt, an AIR Institute Fellow and chairman of NVS’s expert panel. “The NVS study results suggest that as those standards are implemented, NAEP needs to ensure that it continues to be well-aligned with the mathematical content being taught in the nation’s classrooms.”

The NVS panel is planning a 3rd study for 2017 that will provide important additional data on how well NAEP is measuring the Common Core State Standards and how well Common Core content fits into the NAEP framework in math.

“Study of the Alignment of the 2015 NAEP Mathematics Items at Grades 4 and 8 to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Mathematics” can be found at AIR conducts the NVS under contract from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

About AIR
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education and workforce productivity. For more information, visit