Existing assessments in science education weren’t designed to capture three-dimensional science learning like the kind found in the Next Generation Science Standards. Instead, students achievement in science is often assessed only every few years with tests that mainly measure students memorization of facts and definitions. The performance expectations in the NGSS were written to encourage the development of better assessments, but to develop better assessments, we must explore new approaches.
Building A System of Assessment
Successful teaching and learning requires more than a summative assessment at the end of the year. Educators need a new system of assessments to evaluate how well our students are learning and understanding the NGSS supported science curriculum.
There are many classroom evaluations beyond traditional standardized testing that can determine whether students are successfully learning. Students can demonstrate competency with tasks like
- developing and refining models;
- generating, discussing and analyzing data;
- constructing spoken and written scientific explanations;
- engaging in evidence-based argumentation; and
- reflecting on their own understanding.
While these types of assessments give a better picture of real three-dimensional learning, they’re challenging to design, implement, and interpret and will require extensive professional development before most teachers can adopt them into their practice.
External assessments monitor student learning on a large scale over time. They can determine how much students learn over the course of a year, how achievement compares between school systems, or how effective of a particular policy or curriculum program has been.
To measure NGSS performance expectations, the tasks in our external assessments must be similar to those in classroom assessments. Monitoring assessments must
- be given to large numbers of students;
- be sufficiently standardized to support the intended monitoring purpose;
- cover an appropriate breadth of the NGSS; and
- be feasible and cost-effective to conduct.
Although performance-based questions are especially suitable for assessing student proficiency with the NGSS, they take a great deal of time to complete. Therefore, the information from external assessments (like state-mandated testing) will need to be supplemented with information gathered from classroom-embedded assessments (administered at a time that fits the classroom instructional sequence) to fully cover the breadth and depth of the performance expectations.
Classroom-embedded monitoring assessments could take many forms, such as
- self-contained curricular units with instructional materials and assessments provided by the state or district;
- item banks of tasks developed by a state or district that could be used at the appropriate time in classrooms; or
- portfolios of work products that demonstrate students’ levels of proficiency at certain grade levels.
Where We Are Now
NSTA supports the recommendation of the NRC that the development of science assessments should begin at the classroom level—essentially a “bottom up” rather than “top down” approach. While this will require a tremendous amount of work, the approach will help ensure that assessments focus on student learning as part of the process of instruction. Collaboration will be a key in this process, and the NSTA forums are a popular spot for conversation about monitoring student learning.
In designing and implementing these new assessment systems, we’ll also need to focus on extensive professional development for teachers and administrators. Investing in good assessments will play a critical role in providing fair and accurate measures of the state of science education in our country.
Additional Resources on Conducting Assessments
Other Steps in the Process