September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

California State Board of Education Prepares to Take Action on New Accountability System

Posted: Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko
Updated 9/19/2016

On September 8, 2016, the California State Board of Education (SBE) took action to approve the first phase of the state’s new local/state/federal accountability system. The entire system is by no means complete and will continue to evolve and develop over the next few years. There are many components and a lot of new terms that teachers, parents, administrators, and the general public will need to become familiar with as they begin to explore both the big picture as well as the details of this new system – which the State Board intends to be “an integrated local, state, and federal accountability and continuous improvement system.” This month’s SBE agenda also includes an update on the development of the new science assessment scheduled to be piloted in the spring of 2017. The complete agenda and item attachments can be found on the SBE website. Use this same link to watch the meetings live online on the day of the meeting.

Science Assessment Update

On pages 5-7 of item 4 (first item of the day on September 8, 2016) you will find the update on the development of the California Science Test (CAST) and the California Alternate Assessment for Science (CAA for Science). Here they are verbatim (with emphasis and links added):

Science Waiver—Double Testing Waiver

The CDE and SBE requested a two-year waiver of Sections 1204(j)(3) of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. California students in applicable grade levels will participate in full-census pilot testing and field testing of new state assessments during the 2016–17 and 2017–18 school years. The waiver requested permission to not double test or report individual scores for the new California Science Test (CAST) and the California Alternate Assessment for Science (CAA for Science) while conducting pilot and field testing of the CAST and the CAA for Science. California has not yet received a determination from the ED to waive the double testing of the science requirement.

Update on the Development of the Pilot Test for the California Science Test

In March 2016, the SBE approved the CAST general assessment design. The CDE, in collaboration with ETS, California science teachers, and stakeholder input, proceeded with planning the next phase of the test development. The pilot test will be administered to all general education students in grades five and eight, and a sample of high school students.

The purpose of the spring 2017 pilot test administration is to:

  • Test the performance and viability of newly-developed California Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS)-aligned items, including technology-enhanced items that involve the use of dynamic stimuli and other types of new media (e.g., simulated experiments); and
  • Test the functionality of the assessment delivery platform, including its embedded accessibility features, with special attention paid to the system’s rendering of custom interaction items. 

An Item Writer Training Workshop was conducted in Sacramento on April 20 and 21, 2016. Participants at this training (science educators from across California) were trained by ETS science content and measurement experts on how to write CA NGSS-aligned test items and tasks. Items developed by the trained writers will be used on the 2017 pilot tests and future tests. Item development activities for the 2017 CAST pilot will continue through the end of September. In October, a group of California educators (approximately 15 science teachers) will meet to review performance tasks and scoring rubrics.

The administration timeline for the CAST includes the spring 2017 pilot test, the field test in spring 2018, and the first operational testing in the 2018–19 academic year.

Update on the Development of the Pilot Test for the California Alternate Assessment for Science

In July 2016, the SBE approved the conceptual design for the CAA for Science. The approval of this design allowed the CDE to begin the work on the development of the pilot plan and the materials for the spring 2017 pilot test administration.

ETS is working on modifying CA NGSS-aligned performance tasks to meet the specific needs of the targeted student population. Each embedded performance task will be aligned with the Core Content Connectors and originate from several resources recommended by members of the concept design team. ETS will collaborate with the CDE on the embedded performance task development in order to have these materials ready for review. A group of California educators, both science teachers and special education teachers, will meet in the fall to review tasks and scoring rubrics.

Digging Deeper: If you would like to learn more about the proposed design for the new CAST, I recommend you make plans to attend the 2016 California Science Education Conference. CDE and ETS will present a workshop “New Assessments on the California Next Generation Science Standards: What to Expect This Spring and Beyond” on Saturday, October 22. More information and registration is available at Another resource is a webinar hosted by Anthony Quan of the Los Angeles County Office of Education. This webinar about the new CAST design was held in March 2016. An archive is available online.

Nasco Science


Accountability System

LCFF and LCAP are now well integrated into our education lexicon here in California. Soon to be added, if you haven’t mastered them already will be LCFF evaluation rubrics, state indicators, performance standards, local performance indicators, technical assistance and intervention, and statements of model practice among many others. I recommend you read EdSource’s State board poised to take new direction in school accountability by John Fensterwald (September 5, 2016) for a summary of what the board will address later this week. The focus of this article is on where you can find science in this new system, how it will be treated, and what to watch out for.

State Indicator: Academic Indicator

This indicator will be the one most familiar to California’s as it will be made up of test scores. The difference between this indicator and that of the former system is that the indicator will incorporate both performance and student growth (once that information is available. The other difference is that this indicator will only be made up of assessments in grades 3 -8, the 11th-grade SBAC having been moved to the College/Career Indicator (see below).

Where you find science: The new science assessment (CAST) will be included after the test becomes operational and after the results collected from the assessment have been evaluated for how to best include them in the system.

How science is treated: In a way, it holds a special place. It is currently in the system as a sort of “placeholder.”

What to watch out for: As the system develops and we learn how assessment results will be used and/or weighted in the system, and as operational CAST results become available CSTA will work with CDE and SBE to make sure that how science is incorporated in the future is done so in such a way that is fair, equitable, and supportive of science education.

State Indicator: High School Graduation Rate Indicator

Where you find science: California requires two years of science for high school graduation.

How science is treated: There are no special considerations for science (or any other subject matter) within the indicator itself – the only disparity is within the state graduation requirement itself, which remains unchanged.

What to watch out for: Many schools and districts have a three-year high school science graduation requirement. With graduation rates becoming a part of the accountability system is there a risk that those schools and districts whose graduation requirements exceed state requirements will lower them to match the state – with the aim of increasing their graduation rates.

State Indicator: College/Career Indicator

This indicator will evolve over the next new years as more data becomes available. At this time, the indicator will have four “status” indicators: well prepared, prepared, approaching prepared, and not prepared. The well prepared status will not be available the first year as further review and data are required. A copy of the proposed model is available here.

Where you find science: Both the prepared and approaching prepared status require a high school diploma (see notes re: high school graduation indicator above). In addition to a high school diploma a student must also have met other criteria, including passing scores on AP  and IB exams, completion of course that meet UC a-g, and/or CDE Pathway completion (which may include science depending on the pathway).

How science is treated:  It is treated equally with other subjects in terms of AP and IB exams (no preference on subjects for these is given in the proposed criteria). Science is part of the requirements for a high school diploma, and lab science makes up the “d” of the UC a-g courses. Where science is missing is in the assessments. The current model includes performance on the 11th grade ELA and math assessments (more commonly known as Smarter Balance or SBAC) as one of the addtional criteria to be met in order to qualify as “approaching prepared” or “prepared.” The high school science assessment is not currently listed for inclusion.

What to watch out for: Performance on the high school science assessment may become a part of this indicator after scores and more information is available. It is not currently on the list of items to be explored further, however as the future science assessment was tagged for future inclusion in this new accountability system earlier this year, it may land here alongside the high school SBAC assessment.

Local Performance Indicator: Implementation of State Academic Standards

The status for this indicator (currently “met,” “not met,” “not met for 2 or more years”) will be arrived at via a self-assessment tool that has yet to be developed.

Where you find science: The new science standards, more commonly referred to at the California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) are one of the state-adopted standards that schools and districts will be asked to report on.

How science is treated: This is TBD – until the self-assessment tool is available. Based on information provided in the SBE agenda item, it would appear that there is intent for the equitable treatment of state standards. Sample prompts provided in the item include: “How would you rate the strength of your district’s progress in implementing California’s new standards in the following areas?” and “How would you rate the preparedness of the following district and school staff to implement California’s English language arts, English language development, mathematics, and science standards?”

What to watch out for: As this is still very much a work in progress, there is nothing specific to watch out for. CSTA will participate via the stakeholder process in the development of the self-assessment tool in order to ensure science is properly represented.

Local Performance Indicator: Appropriately Assigned Teachers, Access to Curriculum-Aligned Instructional Materials, and Safe, Clean and Functional School Facilities 

This indicator will measure LEA progress in meeting the Williams settlement requirements and is proposed to be qualified as “met,” “not met,” “not met for 2 or more years.”

Where you find science: Look for science in appropriately assigned teachers and access to curriculum-aligned instructional materials.

How science is treated: No differently than any other subject.

What to watch out for: Nothing specific at this time.

Local Performance Indicator: Parent Engagement

As described in the item, the proposed standard for this indicator is that and LEA annually measures its progress in seeking input from parents in decision making and promoting parent participation in programs and subsequently reporting results to its governing board, stakeholders, and the public.

Where you find science: This will be based principally on local data and may include a self-assessment tool or involve selecting local measures from a menu to be included in a web-based interface and reports to the governing board. While none of the example measures in the item offer anything relating to subject-specific content, it may be possible that local measures could include participation in events such as Family Science Night, Science Fairs, or other similar and yet to be developed events that look to engage parents in science at the school. For example: Do all schools outreach to local community to engage parents and community in science (ex: community science night, partnerships with community members for job shadows/project investigations, etc)? Is support of science and STEM electives a regular topic at school meetings that involve parents?

How science is treated: No differently than any other subject.

What to watch out for: Nothing specific at this time. Perhaps the only thing would be the interpretation of parent engagement, which may overlook the value that certain programs at a school may have in promoting parent engagement.

Local Performance Indicator: School Climate

The proposed standard for this indicator is for the LEA to administer a local climate assessment at least every other year to obtain a measure of perception of school safety and connectedness. Similar to the Parent Engagement Indicator, the outcomes of this survey would be reported to a LEA’s governing board, stakeholders, and the public.

Where you find science: Nowhere explicitly, however, CSTA has a few suggestions for ways to incorporate science into school surveys in such a way as to gauge the overall culture of the school to support all subject matters, including science. Two are: does the LEAs offer access to electives, in addition to the state required science curriculum, that support science and/or STEM enrichment that are reflective of the local community (interaction with local professionals and informal science institutions inspire the focus of the elective)? And does student participation reflects the diversity and gender of the school district?

Next Steps

As always, CSTA, with the support of its members, will be present at this month’s SBE meeting to advocate for equitable accountability for science in a way that relies not solely on test scores, is consistent with our position statement, and seeks to promote high quality science education.

Over the coming weeks and years, the California Department and State Board of Education will continue its work to develop, add to, fine tune, and evolve this new system. Their work will be informed by actions at the Federal level and by the many stakeholders, including CSTA, who are engaged in this process every step of the way.

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Written by Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko is CSTA’s Executive Director.

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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.