January/February 2018 – Vol. 31 No. 2

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 janet.lee@gilroyunified.org.

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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California Science Test Academy for Educators

Posted: Thursday, February 15th, 2018

California Science Test Academy for Educators

To support implementation of the California Science Test (CAST), the California Department of Education is partnering with Educational Testing Service and WestEd to offer a one-day CAST Academy for local educational agency (LEA) science educators, to be presented at three locations in California from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. As an alternative to traveling, LEA teams can participate virtually via WebEx on one of the dates listed below.

The dates and locations for the CAST Academy are as follows:

  • Monday, April 23, 2018—Sacramento
  • Wednesday, April 25, 2018—Fresno
  • Thursday, April 26, 2018—Irvine

The CAST Academy will help participants develop a deeper understanding of the assessment design and expectations of the CAST. The academy also will provide information and activities designed to assist educators in their implementation of the California Next Generation Science Standards and three-dimensional learning to help them gain an understanding of how these new science assessment item types can inform teaching and learning. The CAST Academy dates above are intended for school and district science instructional leaders, including teacher leaders, teacher trainers, and instructional coaches. Additional trainings will be offered at a later date specifically for county staff. In addition, curriculum, professional development, and assessment leaders would benefit from this training.

A $100 registration fee will be charged for each person attending the in-person training. Each virtual team participating via WebEx will be charged $100 for up to 10 participants through one access point. Each workshop will have the capacity to accommodate a maximum of 50 virtual teams. Each virtual team will need to designate a lead, who is responsible for organizing the group locally. Registration and payment must be completed online at http://www.cvent.com/d/6tqg8k.

For more information regarding the CAST Academy, please contact Elizabeth Dilke, Program Coordinator, Educational Testing Service, by phone at 916-403-2407 or by e‑mail at caasppworkshops@ets.org.

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.

Accelerating into NGSS – A Statewide Rollout Series Now Accepting Registrations

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

Are you feeling behind on the implementation of NGSS? Then Accelerating into NGSS – the Statewide Rollout event – is right for you!

If you have not experienced Phases 1-4 of the Statewide Rollout, or are feeling behind with the implementation of NGSS, the Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout will provide you with the greatest hits from Phases 1-4!

Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout is a two-day training geared toward grade K-12 academic coaches, administrators, curriculum leads, and teacher leaders. Check-in for the two-day rollout begins at 7:30 a.m., followed by a continental breakfast. Sessions run from 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Day One and from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Day Two.

Cost of training is $250 per attendee. Fee includes all materials, continental breakfast, and lunch on both days. It is recommended that districts send teams of four to six, which include at least one administrator. Payment can be made by check or credit card. If paying by check, registration is NOT complete until payment has been received. All payments must be received prior to the Rollout location date you are attending. Paying by credit card secures your seat at time of registration. No purchase orders accepted. No participant cancellation refunds.

For questions or more information, please contact Amy Kennedy at akennedy@sjcoe.net or (209) 468-9027.



MARCH 28-29, 2018
Host: San Mateo County Office of Education
Location: San Mateo County Office of Education, Redwood City

APRIL 10-11, 2018
Host: Orange County Office of Education
Location: Brandman University, Irvine

MAY 1-2, 2018
Host: Tulare County Office of Education
Location: Tulare County Office of Education, Visalia

MAY 3-4, 2018
Host: San Bernardino Superintendent of Schools
Location: West End Educational Service Center, Rancho Cucamonga

MAY 7-8, 2018
Host: Sacramento County Office of Education
Location: Sacramento County Office of Education Conference Center and David P. Meaney Education Center, Mather

JUNE 14-15, 2018
Host: Imperial County Office of Education
Location: Imperial Valley College, Imperial

Presented by the California Department of Education, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association/County Offices of Education, K-12 Alliance @WestEd, California Science Project, and the California Science Teachers Association.

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.

The Teaching and Learning Collaborative, Reflections from an Administrator

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

by Kelly Patchen

My name is Mrs. Kelly Patchen, and I am proud to be an elementary assistant principal working in the Tracy Unified School District (TUSD) at Louis Bohn and McKinley Elementary Schools. Each of the schools I support are Title I K-5 schools with about 450 students, a diverse student population, a high percentage of English Language Learners, and students living in poverty. We’re also lucky to be part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative with the K-12 Alliance. 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.

2018 CSTA Conference Call for Proposals

Posted: Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

CSTA is pleased to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 90-minute workshops and three- and six-hour short courses for the 2018 California Science Education Conference. Workshops and short courses make up the bulk of the content and professional learning opportunities available at the conference. In recognition of their contribution, members who present a workshop or short course receive 50% off of their registration fees. Click for more information regarding proposals, or submit one today by following the links below.

Short Course Proposal

Workshop Proposal 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.

CSTA’s New Administrator Facebook Group Page

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Holly Steele

The California Science Teachers Association’s mission is to promote high-quality science education, and one of the best practice’s we use to fulfill that mission is through the use of our Facebook group pages. CSTA hosts several closed and moderated Facebook group pages for specific grade levels, (Elementary, Middle, and High School), pages for district coaches and science education faculty, and the official CSTA Facebook page. These pages serve as an online resource for teachers and coaches to exchange teaching methods, materials, staying update on science events in California and asking questions. CSTA is happy to announce the creation of a 6th group page called, California Administrators Supporting Science. 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: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.