May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Common Assessments Using Science Practices

Posted: Friday, April 8th, 2016

by Janet Lee

It can be difficult to develop common assessments for one group of teachers, even harder for a group of teachers from the same department. However, thanks to NGSS, teachers can teach around a science practice and assess that as an entire department to help students grow as they develop a skill over many years. NGSS looks at not just course content, but concepts and practices that can be used at any level.

The Gilroy High School Science department has used professional learning communities (PLC’s) to help students grow around two science practices. The first is analyzing and interpreting data (SEP 4) and the second is writing and communicating scientific information using claim, evidence, reasoning (SEP 8). Both of these were selected due to their overlap with CCSS in English and Math and can be found in Appendix F.

One of the most important components to making this a successful endeavor was that teachers were involved in the assessment process. In the beginning, the subject matter changed from one specialty to another so that there would not be a content bias. Today, the assessments now focus on local California phenomena such as the CA forest fires and the drought. The focus on real phenomena and real data added another level, creating relevance and encouraged teachers and students to be aware of local events. Teachers were involved with choosing the practices to assess, discussing best teaching practices, developing assessments, writing rubrics and grading assessments, and deciding next steps for helping to progress students after each quarterly science skills assessment.

Image 1: TAILS taught in the classroom

Image 1: TAILS taught in the classroom

Learning to graph was embedded into all science classes’ instruction using the acronym TAILS. TAILS stood for Title, Axis, Interval, Label, and Scale – which was later shared with both the math and social science departments of our site. This allowed for common language across disciplines. After discussing TAILS, teachers used their own specific content, such as labs and real life data to shape how students would practice graphing.

Table 1: TAILS for Graphing

Table 1: TAILS for Graphing

Students were also asked to use claim, evidence, and reasoning (CER) to describe their graph, and to analyze the data looking for trends, patterns, and to make predictions about future data points.



With each common assessment, teachers learned more about their students. Common areas of improvement included choice of whether or not to use a bar or line graph or students needing to work on citing evidence. From these gaps in understanding, teachers modified instruction to help students where they needed help with additional practice, sentence stems, identifying CER in scientific articles, and more.

Image 2: What graph type to pick Modified from: Weber et al’s Graph Choice Chart

Image 2: What graph type to pick
Modified from: Weber et al’s Graph Choice Chart

Just like NGSS will ask our students to revise models of what they think of phenomena, teachers need to revise and constantly rethink how they will attend to assessment of science practices. Within one department of teachers at one school site, assessments, rubrics, and how teachers address what students know has changed.

Image 2: What graph type to pick Table 2: Changes to Common Assessments

Image 2: What graph type to pick
Table 2: Changes to Common Assessments

Nothing is stuck in stone or perfect the first time. It has been a huge learning process in getting teachers and students to buy into a common assessment for common skills, but the results have been showing improvement and the assessments have also changed to match the changing skills and abilities of our students. This has been an ongoing project, but with every level – students AND teachers are improving with better being able to work with scientific data and being able to explain what the data shows them. Moving with NGSS and assessment is a journey and it cannot be done in one day. It is not an easy one-day quick fix. It takes a lot of people committed to wanting their students to do better, time to make and provide feedback on assessments, and changes to instruction to follow up, but with NGSS, it can be done, and I feel that by knowing that it can happen at one school, it can continue to happen at many other schools to help ALL students become better at science.

For reference:

Sample Assessment – 2nd Quarter 2015

Webber, Hannah, Sarah Nelson, Ryan Weatherbee, Bill Zoellick, and Molly Schauffler. “The Graph Choice Chart.” The Science Teacher Sci. Teacher. 081.08 (2014): n. pag. Web.

Thank you to Jennifer Spinetti, Steve Jackson, Doug Le, Tracy Serros, William Chavez, Jeff Manker, Nick Matarangas, Elida Moore, Shanti Wertz, Amanda White, and Chloe Smith.

Janet Lee is a NGSS Teacher on Special Assignment for Gilroy High School for the Gilroy Unified School District. She can be contacted at

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 Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

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