March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Could You Actually Like the NGSS Assessments?

Posted: Monday, February 3rd, 2014

by Peter A’Hearn

When teachers are asked about their concerns with the Next Generation Science Standards, questions about assessments top the list. This is not surprising. State assessments have been a stick to beat teachers with for a long time now and, like a dog that has been hit with a stick, teachers have learned to cower. Our thoughts about assessments often assume that the new assessment system will be like our current uninformative and punitive assessment system. An assessment system like that would:

  • Test a whole year’s content in May
  • Not provide much information about what kids understand and what they are confused by and not provide it until months after the students have left the class.
  • Be used as a tool to ratchet up punishments on schools and teachers-especially those with large numbers of low-income students.
  • Create great pressure to “cover” the over-bloated standards before the test. (A fellow teacher in my district pointed out that to “cover” means to hide or obscure.)

So, is that what the NGSS tests will look like? The report Developing Assessments for the Next Generation Science Standards from the National Academies Press says some pretty mind blowing things about how NGSS should be assessed. If policy makers take these recommendations seriously they would represent a huge shift in how science assessment works. Some nuggets from the report:

An assessment system needs three components: Classroom formative assessment, broad scale monitoring assessment (the state testing system), and assessment of the opportunity to learn science.

Assessments need to get out of the way so that class time is spent learning science and not prepping for tests.

Classroom assessment is designed to give teachers insight into how kids are thinking about science and to provide guidance for the next steps in instruction.

Assessments might include portfolios where students can demonstrate learning through their class work products.

Assessment should be build bottom up, which means that the monitoring assessment would have wait until solid classroom assessments were implemented. The state tests would come later.

Building classroom assessments first will help to avoid “teaching to the test.”

State tests would be built around rich performance tasks that assess multiple core ideas and practices.

The state tests can’t possibly test all of the standards. There are suggestions for ways to narrow the tests so that schools can focus on depth instead of breadth.

There needs to be a system to monitor the opportunity to learn science. Do students have enough time for science? Do they have access to quality equipment and materials? Do they have qualified teachers? How much time do they spend engaged in the science practices? Do they like science and want to learn more?

These recommendations paint a picture of a very different assessment system that is much more focused on deep student learning. Teachers could actually like this kind of science assessment. Of course, states can muck it all up in the implementation. In California the Science Framework will help guide the development of assessments. Let’s hope that the Framework writers take the Developing Assessments for the Next Generation Science Standards report to heart.

 

 

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

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For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.

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