Written by Taunya Nesin and Matt Silberglitt. Nesin leads the revision of the NAEP Science Assessment Framework on WestEd’s Science and Engineering team. Silberglitt manages science assessment development projects on WestEd’s Assessment Design and Development team.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often referred to as the Nation’s Report Card, is renowned for providing consistent, measured snapshots of student achievement in various subjects across the country. On November 17, 2023, the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) adopted the 2028 NAEP Science Assessment Framework, which will guide the development of the 2028 assessment for students in grades 4, 8, and 12.

Fostering Scientific Curiosity Through Sensemaking

This new framework is grounded in A Framework for K–12 Science Education, including a shift in emphasis to sensemaking. The 2028 NAEP Science Assessment Framework describes assessments that encourage students to apply disciplinary concepts, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts to reason about phenomena and solve complex problems.

The members of the NAEP Science Framework Development Panel determined that scientific achievement is the construct to be assessed by this framework. As part of the update, they defined scientific achievement as “the ability to use relevant disciplinary concepts (Physical Science, Life Science, Earth and Space Sciences), science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts to identify and address problems, make sense of phenomena, and evaluate information to make informed decisions.” To assess this construct, the development panel described aspects of the assessment that are crucial for developing assessment items:

Centrality of Real-World Phenomena and Problems
One characteristic of the 2028 NAEP Science Assessment Framework is its insistence that students engage with scientific phenomena and problems centered in real-world contexts. This powerful pedagogical approach anchors the NAEP Disciplinary Concepts within experiences that transcend the boundaries of the classroom, enabling students to appreciate the integral role science plays in everyday life.

Inclusion of Diverse Cultural Contexts
The framework encourages the use of culturally relevant contexts, thereby ensuring that science is not only inclusive and accessible but exciting for all students, regardless of their backgrounds.

Incorporating Technology and Engineering
The 2028 NAEP Science Assessment Framework reinforces the importance of technology and engineering practices as pivotal components of comprehensive scientific knowledge. By embedding these components within the science and engineering 2 practices, it fosters a multidimensional understanding that reflects the intertwined nature of science, technology, and engineering.

Redefining Assessment of Students’ Performance

The updated framework fosters the organization of three scientific dimensions across three different grades, three complexity levels, and three achievement levels. This approach enables the assessment of a full range of student performance. The framework includes examples that illustrate ways items may assess different combinations of dimensions, at different grades, and across different levels of complexity. The framework also includes various types of items, including discrete single-part and multipart items, item sets, and scenario-based tasks.

Scale scores for the disciplinary groups will be reported using the following definitions of each reporting category:

  • Sensemaking in Physical Science: The student reasons scientifically using NAEP Disciplinary Concepts (DCs) in physical science, in combination with NAEP Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) and Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs).
  • Sensemaking in Life Science: The student reasons scientifically using NAEP DCs in life science, in combination with NAEP SEPs and CCCs.
  • Sensemaking in Earth and Space Sciences: The student reasons scientifically using NAEP DCs in Earth and space sciences, in combination with NAEP SEPs and CCCs.

Despite the focus on multiple dimensions, NAEP will not report on any of the three dimensions separately, as they work together. That is, there will be no separate scores for students’ knowledge of NAEP DCs, SEPs, or CCCs. Given the goal to report on sensemaking in the three disciplinary groupings, all three dimensions are essential in surfacing and measuring students’ abilities to apply their understanding of the NAEP DCs to real-world contexts— the phenomena and problems that frame each item and group of items. This approach ensures not only the assessment of knowledge but the application of understanding across a range of abilities.

Achievement level descriptions (ALDs) specific to the 2028 NAEP Science Framework were developed to guide the initial stages of standard setting for the 2028 NAEP Science Assessment. The ALDs are organized to describe a range of student performance with respect to each dimension. At each grade, the ALDs first compare performance at each level with respect to NAEP DCs and CCCs. Then, the ALDs describe multidimensional performances that include NAEP SEPs, CCCs, and DCs in each reporting category. This approach is intended to support the standard-setting process by allowing participants in the process to envision multidimensional student performance at each achievement level in a way that can be flexibly applied to a wide range of evidence from the variety of items expected in the 2028 NAEP Science Assessment. During item development, the ALDs can serve as a guide to ensure that items will elicit evidence that supports this process.


The 2028 NAEP Science Assessment Framework is a significant stride toward assessing contemporary science education. It encapsulates the evolving nature of science, pedagogy, and 3 societal needs. Furthermore, the pragmatic integration of real-world phenomena, culturally relevant contexts, and the infusion of technology and engineering underscores the relevance and applicability of scientific achievement. Most importantly, the focus on sensemaking scaffolds learners to meld different dimensions of science into a holistic understanding. Ultimately, this framework presents an extraordinary opportunity for the assessment of the three dimensions of scientific achievement among our nation’s students.

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