It’s testing week for Tennessee students taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a critical measure of the state’s academic progress.

Across the state, fourth- and eighth-graders in 200 schools and 90 school districts are taking the tests in reading and math, which are administered every other year by the National Center for Education Statistics.

NAEP data is closely watched – from policymakers to classroom teachers – to assess what students know and to develop ways to improve education across the nation. In 2013, Gov. Bill Haslam cited NAEP data in declaring Tennessee the nation’s fastest improving state. That oft-repeated claim has been the lynchpin of support for ongoing reforms — such as more stringent teacher evaluations and new academic standards — rolled out by his administration in recent years.

State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, who started her job this month, said one of her top priorities is continued improvement of NAEP scores, which are used to develop The Nation’s Report Card. Last week, she told Chalkbeat that she hopes the state will move from the bottom half to the top of half of states by 2019.

NAEP is administered every other year to a random sample of students from across the nation.

This year for the first time, 96 Tennessee schools will take a technology-based NAEP assessment on tablets. Those results will not factor into the NAEP report card, which is released in the fall.

In 2017, Tennessee 12th-graders are scheduled to participate in NAEP tests as well.