Proposal for a NAEP SES Index: Background, Findings, and Remaining Challenges

Rebecca Shipan

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has an obligation to report on subgroup performance, including by students’ family socioeconomic status (SES). However, concerns have been raised about the validity and limitations of existing SES proxy variables in NAEP, particularly National School Lunch Program (NSLP) eligibility. In order to address the challenges of SES measurement in NAEP, a panel convened by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) recommended developing a composite measure of SES with a core measure based on SES-related components that have long been collected by NAEP. The report gives an overview of NCES’ research and development efforts related to the recommendations of the panel.

This paper is part of a series of AIR-NAEP working papers that showcase AIR’s expertise and experience not only with NAEP but with other large-scale assessments and survey-based longitudinal studies. Explore all the AIR-NAEP working papers.

In this report, AIR proposes an SES index for NAEP comprised of four existing NAEP variables (at grade eight and twelve): 1) the number of books at the student’s home; 2) the student’s NSLP eligibility status; 3) the percentage of students eligible for NSLP at the school the student is attending; and 4) the highest level of education of either parent. At grade 4, the index is only comprised of the first three components.

The report evaluates the performance and utility of the proposed NAEP SES index, based on criteria established by NCES and AIR. The results show that the NAEP SES index performs better than the current proxy—NSLP eligibility—in explaining performance variation and racial/ethnic score gaps in NAEP, as well as performing better than similar SES indices in other large-scale surveys administered in the United States. In addition, the index functions similarly for each major racial/ethnic subgroup.

While remaining challenges need to be resolved, the results indicate that the proposed NAEP SES index would be a useful addition to the NAEP program.