The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often called The Nation’s Report Card, is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what students in the United States know and are able to do in various subjects. Since 1969, NAEP has been a common measure of student achievement across the country in mathematics, reading, science, and many other subjects. Depending on the assessment, NAEP report cards provide national, state, and some district-level results, as well as results for different demographic groups. NAEP is a congressionally mandated project of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), located within the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.
For 17 years, Hager Sharp has provided communications support to the U.S. Department of Education, including NAEP, in the areas of strategic planning, media relations, materials development, digital engagement, research, evaluation, and event and conference management. This includes communications support for annual releases of assessment results and data; outreach to schools, administrators, teachers, students, and parents to encourage participation in NAEP; materials development, booth design, and staffing and presentation support at various education-centric conferences; and coordination between multiple contractors and vendors to ensure continued mission and message alignment.
With our support, participation in The Nation’s Report Card grew by double digits. NAEP has also evolved along with the technologies that schools and students use, while remaining statistically accurate and relevant. In fact, NAEP is considered to be one of the most influential sources of education information and is cited by policymakers and in news stories nearly every day.
For 17 years, we’ve worked closely with NCES to anticipate, prepare, and plan for major changes in the NAEP program. For example, when high school participation in the voluntary assessment was declining to a precariously low level, we developed a strategic plan to stem the decline and increase participation of schools and 12th-grade students for a robust assessment. Through formative research, we talked with state education officials and with school-level decision-makers—superintendents, principals and teachers, and students—directly. That led to changes in how and when schools were approached, as well as a full array of communication strategies and materials, with an emphasis on explaining directly to students why their participation mattered. As a result, participation increased 13% in the first year of the new plan.
Hager Sharp’s team members are storytellers, and The Nation’s Report Card has a lot of stories to tell. In media relations, we focus on making sure that everyone understands how to talk about NAEP. Our team includes former journalists and media-savvy specialists who approach media relations with integrity and the content knowledge that helps reporters tell accurate stories about what our nation’s students know and can do. We dig into the data, help polish the reports, and tailor media strategy based on the content of each report. We also help prepare national and state education officials for releases. We track coverage daily and conduct periodic analyses of the coverage to see how NAEP reports, data displays, and outreach can be continuously improved to be the most useful to reporters and their readers and viewers.
We use social channels to engage NAEP’s diverse stakeholders throughout the year, not just around annual assessment releases. Stakeholders include education thought leaders, state and school level decision-makers, parents, and the media. We take NAEP data and create concise, easy-to-understand social media content that gives followers sample questions, a closer look at the stories in the data, useful materials for classrooms, and behind-the-scenes moments. As a result, NAEP is reaching education thought leaders, practitioners, and other key stakeholders across Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube—a following now 18,000 strong and growing.
Conferences are a valuable opportunity for NAEP team members to engage in vital face-to-face interactions with education researchers, curriculum specialists, assessment experts, state and district superintendents, school administrators, teachers, and other groups. Hager Sharp plans an annual conference schedule, which includes exhibiting and garnering speaking engagements. We provide tailored information for each conference audience and showcase online tools, such as the NAEP Data Explorer and NAEP Questions Tool, at the interactive booth. We also coordinate speaking engagements at key education events, such as annual meetings for the American Educational Research Association, the International Literacy Association, and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
When NCES needed help communicating the value of NAEP and gaining the participation of schools and students during a major education policy transition, they asked for our support. Through formative research with principals, teachers, parents, and students, we recommended that NAEP rebrand itself using terms and concepts more familiar to these audiences. The result is the sub-brand: The Nation’s Report Card. With this new brand name, we broadened NAEP’s outreach so that more educators and policymakers could understand and use NAEP data, and we helped reporters communicate the data in accurate, meaningful ways. We designed a new logo and brand identity, which has been refreshed in recent years, and we work continuously with other NAEP contractors to ensure brand consistency. As The Nation’s Report Card, NAEP is also distinguishable from many other assessments in a crowded testing field. Today, almost all news stories refer to NAEP with the note “often called The Nation’s Report Card.”
Hager Sharp supports each NAEP release with a package of communications materials, including pre-release social media graphics, infocards and infographics highlighting statistically significant data, and an executive summary video. For other initiatives, we provide downloadable brochures, conference materials, PowerPoint presentations, social media graphics, and videos—all designed to convey complex statistical information in clear, compelling plain language. We bring data to life with visualizations that help all of us without PhDs “get” the story. For example, to help explain and show the innovation behind NAEP’s transition to digital assessments, we created a visually enhanced and award-winning video focused on the student experience. Another video we created specifically for high school students was cited as one of the most effective tools in increasing 12th-grade student participation at a critical time—an increase of 13 percentage points in just one year!
One of the most important challenges our nation faces is the extent to which economic and demographic circumstances drive student success. NAEP examines the progress of all of our country’s students, and it’s important that a wide range of stakeholders can understand and apply the data. Hager Sharp develops ways to engage with all of these stakeholders. This includes attending and speaking at conferences, hosting webinars and Facebook Live conversations, and developing special reports on demographic student groups. We also create targeted strategies for media and partnership outreach with organizations such as historically black universities and colleges, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, Native American organizations, and many others.
Our NAEP strategies are firmly rooted in audience research. We have spoken with hundreds of parents, teachers, principals, and students to find out what will help them understand NAEP and motivate them to participate in this voluntary assessment. Ongoing conversations with education thought leaders, policymakers, and researchers who use NAEP data help us identify what NAEP’s stakeholders need, and how they want to receive that information to drive both participation and use of NAEP data. Over the years, educators who are on the front lines of education have been instrumental in ensuring a successful assessment and in generating data and research that help students across the country get the education they need and deserve.