September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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.

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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

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1J_0Hsuy0IfNG5AXhPRItltpJjnWxUdpo4glOdjFYRys/edit?usp=sharing

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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Written by Peter AHearn

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