Academic journal article The Science Teacher

A Virtuous Cycle: Using the Formative Assessment Design Cycle to Support the NGSS

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

A Virtuous Cycle: Using the Formative Assessment Design Cycle to Support the NGSS

Article excerpt

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013; see box, p. 40) lay out an ambitious agenda for students to simultaneously engage with disciplinary core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and scientific practices. This doesn't just mean new expectations for teaching; it also requires new formative assessments. In contrast to summative assessment, used to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit, formative assessment is something that teachers and students can do together, every day, to monitor student learning and provide timely feedback (Shepard 2000; Trauth-Nare and Buck 2011). Formative assessment also helps teachers modify and fine-tune their teaching practices (Furtak 2012).

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Developing intriguing questions and activities for formative assessment and providing useful feedback to students are challenging (Heritage et al. 2009). Fortunately, our research (Furtak and Heredia 2014; Furtak, Morrison, and Kroog 2014) has shown that teachers can design this ambitious type of assessment with the support of their colleagues.

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The Formative Assessment Design Cycle

In this article, we present the research-based, four-step Formative Assessment Design Cycle (FADC, Figure 1), which guides science teachers through developing, enacting, and revising formative assessments. In the FADC, a group of teachers design common assessments together and then use them in their own classrooms (Ainsworth and Viegut 2006), meeting later to discuss the ideas students shared and what they plan to do next.

Each element of the FADC was informed by the results of two research projects involving science teachers from four high schools over several years. These studies found that teachers using the FADC develop better formative assessments, synchronize their units, and learn more about science and student thinking; likewise, student learning increases the more teachers use the cycle to design their formative assessments (Furtak and Heredia 2014; Furtak, Morrison, and Kroog 2014).

The foundation of the FADC is colleagues working in partnership and meeting regularly to improve their teaching practice (Borko et al., 2008; McLaughlin and Talbert 2006). Colleagues may come from the same subject area (e.g., high school biology) or from various grade levels and science disciplines. With the former approach, teachers at small schools who may be the only person teaching their subject may partner with teachers at neighboring schools. With the latter approach, colleagues can come from across grade levels and science content areas, either at your own school or neighboring schools. Meeting once or twice a month for an hour to 90 minutes worked well for teachers in our projects. Your school may have professional development or planning time in the calendar that can be devoted to the FADC.

Step 1: Set goals and explore student ideas

Determine what you want to know about student learning and then explore student ideas around that goal (see "On the web"). Your goal may come directly from the NGSS or from other resources, such as pacing guides or other curriculum frameworks adopted by your state, district, or school. Fortunately, NGSS authors constructed performance expectations that clearly describe what students are expected to know and do with supplemental resources available to help (Bybee 2013; also see "On the web").

Next, discuss with your colleagues the standard you have identified. Start by examining the disciplinary core ideas, scientific practices, and crosscutting concepts in the standard. For example, digging into the life science standard HS-LS4 Biological Evolution, and the performance expectation, HS-LS4-4, "Construct an explanation based on evidence for how natural selection leads to adaptation of populations," reveals its three components: disciplinary core ideas such as Natural Selection (LS4. …

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