White Paper to Provide Context for NAEP Achievement Levels by Reviewing State and International Practices

Peter Behuniak, Criterion Consulting, LLC and Denny Way, College Board

The National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) has recently turned increased attention towards the NAEP achievement levels (ALs) and associated achievement level descriptors (ALDs). The process began with the work by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) that led to the publication of the Evaluation of the Achievement Levels for Mathematics and Reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (National Assessment Governing Board, 2017).

This white paper offers two specific contributions for NAGB to consider as they move forward with plans to respond to the NAS report and to develop evidence to support removal of the trial status of the NAEP ALs.

  • The first section of the paper describes a survey of state assessment coordinators and directors that documented the influence of NAEP on how states have set and maintained achievement levels for their own assessments, as well as how NAEP results are interpreted in conjunction with state assessment results.
  • The second section of the paper includes a comparison of approaches and practices of international assessments related to setting and maintaining achievement levels with those of NAEP. Through this exercise, we noted the relevance of certain international practices to NAGB’s response to the recent NAS evaluation.

In different ways, each effort helps to illustrate the maturity and influence of the NAEP achievement levels. Moreover, recent changes to the NAEP achievement levels policy statement and actions taken by NAGB to more explicitly align the NAEP content frameworks, item pools, achievement-level descriptors, and cut scores are directly responsive to NAS evaluation recommendations. Although there will likely remain some challenges stemming from potential disconnects between the aspirational genesis of the NAEP achievement levels and performance on actual NAEP items, their status seems reasonably permanent at this point.