Science Assessments Evolve to Reflect Next Generation Science Standards

When states adopted the Next Generation Science Standards or created new standards based upon the National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 Science Education, they ushered in a new era, shifting the fundamental approach taken to science education. School districts in these states are now at various stages of implementation, and each of them had to transition to new curriculum materials, invest in supplies and professional development to support teachers, and rethink how they assess student progress and prepare students for state summative assessments which are also changing in response to these new standards.

Three-Dimensional Classroom Practice

Teachers are creating classroom experiences that immerse students in an inquiry-based environment. Lessons allow students to explore phenomena in the same three-dimensional way the standards were designed. Students step into the role of scientists as they make sense of problems. They draw on connections to fundamental scientific ideas (Crosscutting Concepts), propose theories, design models or execute experiments (Science and Engineering Practices) and draw conclusions on their path to learning new concepts (Disciplinary Core Ideas). It’s interactive, student-centered, messy, sometimes loud and bears little resemblance to the way these topics were approached in the past.

With this new approach, how do teachers measure student progress? If mastery means that students can demonstrate performance expectations by applying this framework to solve new problems, what form should assessments take? It’s clear assessments that measure rote memorization of facts are not going to probe deeply enough to measure how students performing in an inquiry-based environment.

Three-Dimensional Assessment

Achieve, the organization that managed the state-led process to develop the Next Generation Science Standards has developed and released recommendations for states to consider when planning assessment programs to evaluate student performance on three-dimensional standards. The collection of resources outlines challenges associated with creating three-dimensional assessments, describes assessment models, and profiles state efforts to create new assessment programs. States will be considering how to structure assessment programs that include not just summative assessments, but also cohesively integrates classroom formative tests and interim assessments.

An Achieve initiative, the Task Annotation Project in Science (TAPS), suggests key features inherent in quality performance tasks used to measure student progress towards mastery of three-dimensional standards:

  • Focused on a phenomenon to engage the student.
  • Encourages sense-making – the student needs to draw on their understanding of ideas and practices to employ reasoning and problem-solving.
  • Requires application of both disciplinary core ideas and science and engineering practices to complete the assigned task.
  • Equity – tasks need to be understood and accessible to all students.
  • Scoped appropriately to meet the intended goal.

TAPS recommendations provide guidance for districts, schools, and teachers to help identify assessments and tasks that facilitate three-dimensional assessment. Active dialog lead by Achieve, the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) and educators is encouraging the evolution of science education and assessment of student progress towards mastery of key scientific skills.

As the assessment landscape takes shape and states develop comprehensive assessment programs, instruction and evaluation continue to occur in the classroom. Districts, schools, and teachers need to select or create activities and assessments to gauge student performance and inform future instruction.