September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

CDE Reveals and State Board Approves California’s NGSS Summative Assessment Design Plan

Posted: Monday, March 14th, 2016

by Lisa Hegdahl and Jessica Sawko

After many months of collaboration with NGSS experts, assessment experts, other NGSS-adoption states, CSTA, science teachers, its testing contractor Educational Testing Service (ETS), and other stakeholders, the California Department of Education (CDE) presented its proposed design plan for the California Next Generation Science Standards General Summative Assessment. After approximately two hours of presentation and discussion, the State Board of Education voted unanimously to approve the design plan – allowing the development process to proceed on schedule toward the target of operational assessments in 2018/2019. The full proposal can be accessed from the agenda posted on the State Board of Education website – look for Item 2. A summary of the plan is posted on the CSTA website at

Michelle Center, Director Assessment Development and Administration Division for (CDE) and ETS representatives Dr. Jim Pellegrino and Dr. Kathleen Scalise provided a thorough presentation (click here to view a video of the board presentation, click Item 2) to the State Board. California Science Teachers Association Executive Director, Jessica Sawko, and President, Lisa Hegdahl, represented the CSTA membership at this important meeting and provided public comment in support of the Plan.

Design Summary Table as presented by CDE on March 9, 2016. Table extracted from the item presentation file available at

Design Summary Table as presented by CDE on March 9, 2016. Table extracted from the item presentation file available at

During her presentation, Center pointed out the CA NGSS Assessment Design Goals which are to:

  • Emphasize importance of group-level results to promote improvements to teaching and learning. (The design plan calls for an assessment in three segments, A, B, and C: Segments A & B will contribute to both individual student and group scores; Segment C will contribute only to group scores).
  • Provide models of high quality, CA NGSS-aligned assessment items.
  • Create incentives for schools to provide science instruction in every grade, not just in tested grades. (For the 5th grade assessment, Segments A & B will assess 5th grade performance expectations (PEs), Segment C will assess PEs from K-5. The 8th grade assessment will assess PEs from the 6 – 8 grade span in all three segments. The high school assessment will assess PEs from the high school grade span in all three segments.)
  • Measure the range and depth of NGSS performance expectations by leveraging the state’s distinctly large student population.
  • Minimize testing time and costs. (The design plan calls for a 2 – 2.5 hour assessment)


And the CA NGSS Design Features:

  • Assessment design measures the range and depth of CA NGSS performance expectations (PEs) over a three year cycle.
  • Assessment items, generated by evidence-centered design based task models, will assess the three dimensions of NGSS. (Every item will assess a CA NGSS DCI and at least one of the other two CA NGSS dimensions: one SEP or one crosscutting concept (CCC). Wherever possible, all three dimensions will be assessed within a single item; however, leading NGSS experts agree that this will not always be practical.)
  • Design makes use of a diverse range of item types.
  • Both independent items as well as item sets are used.
  • This is a computer-based, two-stage adaptive assessment.
  • Uses partial matrix sampling of content
  • Group level feedback while ensuring individual student performance is measured fairly and comparably
  • Administered at grades five, eight and grade ten, eleven, or twelve.
  • The assessment is designed to be administered in two hours or less.

On March 10, 2016 Anthony Quan of the Los Angeles County Office of Education hosted a webinar on the NGSS assessment design plan. He invited CSTA’s executive director Jessica Sawko to participate in the webinar. This webinar has been archived and is available online.

A question and answer period following the CDE/ETS presentation of the assessment design plan revealed additional information which included:

  • This assessment plan does not include information about alternative assessments, however the funding for development of those assessments is included in the current contract with ETS.
  • The purpose of the 2017 Pilot Assessment will be to gather information on assessment items, not to generate scores. Grades other than those designated for assessment administration in the plan may also be asked to participate in the pilot.
  • Ultimately this summative assessment plan, while it does meet the requirements for the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), was developed to meet the needs of California students.
  • Information on how a high school student is progressing in science will be available the year they take the assessment whether it is in 10th, 11th, or 12th grade, however, the scores will be ‘banked’ and reported for ESSA purposes during the student’s senior year.

In a letter to the SBE, as well as during public comment, CSTA encouraged the SBE to approve the plan and offered further collaboration with the State Board, CDE, and ETS as the work to develop the new CA-NGSS Summative Assessments progresses and are ultimately implemented.

This is an exciting step forward in the implementation process. CSTA will keep its members up to date on information as it becomes available. It is only with the support of members that CSTA is able to maintain its work in NGSS implementation – we thank our members for their support. If you are not currently a member of CSTA, please consider joining today.

Lisa Hegdahl is president of CSTA and an 8th grade science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School. Jessica Sawko is CSTA’s executive director.

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.

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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. 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.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.