Academic journal article Science Scope

Including Often-Missed Knowledge and Skills in Science Assessments

Academic journal article Science Scope

Including Often-Missed Knowledge and Skills in Science Assessments

Article excerpt

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) have the potential to "transform science education and give all students...the skills and knowledge they need to be informed citizens, college ready, and prepared for STEM careers" (NSTA 2013). But as we open our arms to the NGSS, we also need to ask ourselves: How do we know if we are making the goals of the NGSS a reality for our students? How are we going to assess whether students know and can do what is described in the NGSS? Assessment occurs at many levels, including national (e.g., National Assessment of Educational Progress), state, district, school, and classroom. At each of these levels, standardized assessments are important and affect decisions, policies, and practices in education. Change in standardized assessment is important for measuring and sustaining change in education (NRC 2012). The new standards provide both challenges and opportunities to positively affect science achievement, but they can only do so when we use assessment tools, resources, and approaches that align with the contemporary performance expectations in the NGSS (Pellegrino 2013).

In the NGSS, we find many examples of performance expectations that are often missed in large-scale, standardized assessments. For example, the NGSS ask students to "Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for the role of photosynthesis in the cycling of matter and flow of energy into and out of organisms" (Standard MS-LS1-6; emphasis added) and "Develop a model to describe how food is rearranged through chemical reactions forming new molecules that support growth and/or release energy as this matter moves through an organism" (Standard MS-LS1-7; emphasis added) (NGSS Lead States 2013). Looking at specific performance expectations such as these, it is clear that the writers of the standards value complex performance expectations.

Think about how these performance expectations might be assessed using multiple choice. For MS-LS1-6, you might ask students to identify a scientific explanation, but the multiple-choice format does not allow assessment of whether students can construct an explanation, which is what the performance expectation requires. Because identifying and constructing are very different skills, the approaches to teaching students to identify versus to construct a scientific explanation are likely to differ. The format and content of assessments can have profound impacts on the skills emphasized and developed during instruction (Au 2007). These issues can result in misalignment of performance expectations, assessment, and curriculum.

So how are we going to assess these complex performance expectations, which often go unassessed in large-scale, standardized tests? In this article, we share our approach to address this question and share the freely available formative- and summative-assessment supports for teachers that our method is producing. Our approach hinges on teachers, who have the greatest insight into the knowledge and skills of students, fulfilling a more critical role in state-level assessment. In our method, teachers assess individual students, while an external agent, such as a state or national agency, assesses samples of students (fewer than 5% of students would be included) to cross-validate teachers' assessments. Key to this approach is that both teachers and the external agencies use common assessment specifications and scoring plans to ensure the assessment findings are comparable. (To learn more about our research, visit our website; see "Improving Science Assessments" in Resources.)

FIGURE 1 "Target knowledge and skills" and "evidence" example

Drawing a Food Web

Target Knowledge and Skills

Student can create a diagram (i.e., food web) that illustrates the flow of energy among producers, consumers, and decomposers within an ecosystem.


Students are given "field notes" that a biologist observing and describing an ecosystem might make. …

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