In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in Geography Education

  • Introduction

Geography National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in Geography Education
Michael Solem, Joseph P. Stoltman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 October 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0279


The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is a large-scale school-based study of student achievement in K-12 education in the United States. NAEP assessments are designed to be representative of the demographic, socioeconomic, and geographic diversity of the United States. Geography was included from 1994 to 2018. In 2019, the National Assessment Governing Board announced geography was being eliminated from the next decade-long assessment cycle along with economics, foreign language, and art. There have been five NAEP Geography assessments, three of which assessed the geographic knowledge of students in the fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades in 1994, 2001, 2010 and only at the eighth-grade level in 2014 and 2018. The NAEP program also collects contextual data to further provide information about the students, teachers, and schools participating in each assessment. After the assessment has been completed, NAEP shares the data publicly in reports known as the “NAEP Report Card.” Additionally, NAEP offers a variety of digital tools to support research regarding student achievement, including the NAEP Data Explorer, NAEP Item Maps, and released assessment items. Researchers may apply for a data license from the Institute of Education Sciences to obtain raw, restricted-use data files containing individual responses to NAEP assessments for advanced statistical analyses of student achievement. NAEP data have been leveraged by researchers to analyze relationships between student achievement and a variety of educational factors (e.g., instructional exposure, teacher quality, classroom technology) and noneducational factors (e.g., student and school socioeconomic status, school neighborhood effects). A comprehensive statistical analysis of NAEP Geography assessments at the eighth-grade level produced a predictive model that comprised of student- and school-level variables. Student characteristics including race, gender, and eligibility for free- or reduced-price lunches were consistently predictive of geography scores, conditional on all covariates. In contrast, school attributes including school type (e.g., private or public school); U.S. regional location (e.g., Southeast, West); and urbanicity (e.g., suburb, rural) were not statistically significant predictors on most assessments. Subsequent research involving NAEP Geography data has explored relationships between geography achievement and differences in students’ opportunity to learn geography, including disparities in students’ access to experienced geography teachers and exposure to high-quality instruction and learning activities.

General Overview

The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) 2022a manages the data resources for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the large-scale, school-based assessment of what students in the United States know and are able to do in various school subjects. NAEP samples are representative of the geographic, racial and ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity of the country’s elementary and secondary students. NAEP technical documentation is provided regarding psychometric measures, sampling procedures, assessment design, and how NAEP achievement data are analyzed (NCES 2022b). The Report Cards for Geography from 1994 to 2018 are presented online (NCES 2022c). Included are the assessments from 1994, 2001, and 2010 that were taken by students in the fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades and those taken in 2014 and 2018 by students in the eighth grade. The NAEP websites feature data tools to familiarize the public with the various assessments and to support research. They include a Data Explorer that generates reports and conducts statistical analyses using data from the assessments (NCES 2022d). Assessment items are released by the NAEP for educators and the general public to review and apply on local assessments (NCES 2022e). Specially designed item maps showing the content that students are likely to know depending on their score attainment on NAEP Geography are available for research and use in designing local school assessments in geography and social studies. NCES 2022f.

  • National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). “National Assessment of Educational Progress.” In NCES/IES (Institute of Education Sciences). Washington, DC: Department of Education, 2022a.

    This website offers instructions for preparing teachers and students for the assessment. It includes links to NAEP resources and data tools, examples of test questions, and NAEP Report Cards for assessed subjects. Visitors to the site can explore assessments by subject area and view webinars and publications that accompany the assessment reports. Additionally, the site contains the NAEP Long Term Trends and High School Transcript Study reports. Last updated 10 November 2022.

  • National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). “NAEP Technical Documentation on the Web.” In NCES/IES (Institute of Education Sciences). Washington, DC: Department of Education, 2022b.

    Technical documentation is provided to the research community and experts in educational measurement. The site consists of eight chapters: Instruments, Data Collection, Scoring, Weighting, Sample Design, Assessment Materials, Database, and Analysis and Scaling. Each chapter has subsections with pertinent documents that describe the technical procedures and methods of the NAEP program. Last updated 10 January 2022.

  • National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). “NAEP Report Card: Geography.” In NCES/IES (Institute of Education Sciences). Washington, DC: Department of Education, 2022c.

    This site contains the five NAEP reports for geography. Visitors can read the assessment’s geography content, view and compare student scores, and access the findings of the contextual survey questionnaires completed by students, teachers, and school administrators. The site includes links to sample questions and item maps prepared for the geography assessment. Visitors can also learn how to acquire restricted-use data files for secondary analysis. Last updated 7 September 2022.

  • National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). “NAEP Data Explorer.” In NCES/IES (Institute of Education Sciences). Washington, DC: Department of Education, 2022d.

    This site is a portal into data from NAEP’s subject assessments, High School Transcript Study, National Indian Education Study, School and Teacher Questionnaire Study, and Long-Term Trends. Users can generate statistical reports, charts, and graphs. To explore NAEP data, users select a subject (e.g., math, civics, science); grade (e.g., fourth, eighth, or twelfth); and jurisdiction (e.g., national, individual states). Reports can be saved online or exported. Last accessed 30 November 2022.

  • National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). “The Nation’s Report Card: NAEP Questions Tool.” In NCES/IES (Institute of Education Sciences). Washington, DC: Department of Education, 2022e.

    The NAEP Questions Tool provides public access to over two thousand released questions from NAEP assessments in nearly all subject areas, dating from 1990. Visitors to the site can examine how students in their state compare with students in other states and across the nation. The tool also enables users to create quizzes based on the released NAEP items.

  • National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). “Data Tools: NAEP Item Maps.” In NCES/IES (Institute of Education Sciences). Washington, DC: Department of Education, 2022f.

    To illustrate relationships between NAEP scores and performance standards, the NAEP website offers tools for users to create item maps showing how scores are distributed in relation to descriptors of the assessed subject matter. More difficult items appear toward the top of the map, while easier items appear at the lower end of the map. Users can generate an item map for a particular subject, grade, and jurisdiction. Last accessed 30 November 2022.

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