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.



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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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.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw


This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.

Is This a First: Young Female Teens Propose California Water Conservation Legislation?

Posted: Monday, August 28th, 2017

Meet the La Habra Water Guardians from the Optics of their Teacher Moderator, Dr. P.

by Susan M. Pritchard, Ph.D.

You have just won the 2016 Lexus Eco Challenge as one of four First Place Winners in the Middle School Category across the nation! Now, what are you going to do … go to Disneyland? No, not for four of the six La Habra Water Guardians, Disneyland is not in their future at this time. Although I think they would love a trip to Disneyland, (are you listening Mickey Mouse?), at this moment they are focused big time on one major thing … celebrating the passage of their proposed legislation: Assembly Bill 1343 Go Low Flow Water Conservation Partnership Bill and now promoting the enactment of this legislation. Learn More…

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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: