March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

New CA Science Test: What You Should Know

Posted: Thursday, January 12th, 2017

by Lisa Hegdahl

updated March 3, 2017

Since the California State Board of Education (SBE) adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in 2013, CSTA and its partners across the state have tried vigilantly to get the message out that the NGSS are like nothing any of us have ever seen before in Science education. The focus thus far has been on the structure of NGSS and the conceptual shifts in the classroom instruction. However, these shifts also apply to how we assess NGSS. This assessment conversation will become even more critical as the new California Science Test (CAST) makes its debut.

Facts about the CAST Pilot Test:

  • Pilot test will take place in Spring 2017
  • All LEAs will administer the pilot versions of the CAST and California Alternate Assessment for Science (CAA) as part of the 2016–17 CAASPP administration.
  • Will be taken by all California fifth graders, 8th graders, and all students in a selected grade levels at each High School (The high school grade assignments are now available on the CAASPP Portal High School Grade Assignments for 2016–17 Science Pilot Testing Web page.)
  • Each grade level pilot will have 10-15 discrete items and a performance task.
  • The pilot will take approximately one-hour to complete including a brief student survey at the end of the test.
  • Online training tests are now available. These allow teachers, parents and students to go online and try out a small number of sample tasks and questions in preparation for the statewide pilot test in the spring.
  • CAST Training Items Scoring Guide: CDE has released the scoring guide for the CAST training items released in early February. The Scoring Guide offers details about the items, student response types, correct responses, and related scoring considerations for the included sample of training items.
  • The CAA for Science pilot test will be administered to any student in grade five, eight, or the assigned high school grade with an individualized education program that identifies them for alternate assessment and should be assigned to the CAA for Science pilot test. Instructions for assigning tests can be found in the TOMS Pre-Administration Guide for CAASPP Testing linked on the CAASPP Portal Manuals and Instructions Web page.
  • Accessibility Supports for students with IEPs or 504 plans will be limited for the Pilot but will be in place for the Operational Test in Spring 2019.

CDE CAASPP Training Site

CDE CAASPP Training Site

Facts About CAST:

  • When the test becomes operational in 2019, all California fifth graders and 8th graders will be tested. High Schools will determine when their students take the High School CAST. Since not all High School students take the same Science course of study, it is likely that students will not all take the CAST at the same grade level, but will take it when their Science course of study is complete.
  • The tests are being created specifically to gauge each student’s performance in the skills called for by the NGSS, including the ability to think critically and solve problems utilizing the three dimensions of the NGSS.
  • Once operational, these tests will provide results and information that educators can put to use in understanding student strengths and weaknesses, and make adjustments to improve learning. CAST will be used to inform districts, teachers, and parents about how students are able to use the three dimensions of NGSS to respond to new problems.
  • The CAST assessment will be computer-based and should take no more than two hours to complete.
  • The concept of CAA embedded performance task relies on students receiving instruction on a particular topic, and then, shortly afterward, getting assessed on that topic by a test examiner using the embedded PT. However, the student may not receive any additional instruction once the embedded PT has started.

Shifts and Limits of the NEW California Science Assessment:

Although State assessments are valuable because they represent a common yardstick – a way to measure the progress of all students at the same time in the same way –  they also have limits.

  • CAST is completely electronic which limits the kinds of questions and tasks in which students are able to engage. Statewide assessments cannot duplicate the hands-on learning of a school science lab. While the new tests will incorporate video and online simulations – as with any subject – fully gauging a student’s science knowledge requires using several different measures of progress. Experiments, in-class assignments, and tests designed by individual teachers will all continue to play an essential part in monitoring the development of student conceptual frameworks.
  • Since CAST is tasked with assessing every CA Science student in 5th grade, 8th grade, and one time during grades 10-12, the test is limited in its ability to provide questions that are modeled after phenomena of which all students have explored in their individual classes during the year.
  • The final operational CAST is not meant to take more than two hours whereas classroom teachers have the flexibility to engage their students in a variety of formative and summative assessments that can take place over several science periods or days. Chapter 7 of the recently adopted California Science Framework is packed with suggestions and strategies for assessing NGSS in the classroom.
  • Creating a new test takes time, and substantial work will continue for several years. Like California’s new science standards, creating this assessment calls for breaking new ground.

Because the new learning goals for science ask students to think and work more like scientists and engineers, developing this new assessment requires formulating questions that bring together both science content and practices, as well as incorporating concepts that span across different scientific disciplines. That poses a challenge for testing experts, who must also consider a wide range of other factors, including the need to keep the tests from becoming too long.

References & Resources:

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Written by Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl is an 8th grade science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, CA and is President for CSTA.

7 Responses

  1. My problem with this Pilot is that I still do not know what my high school 10th graders are going to be tested on. Which specific discipline?

    Rob

  2. Dear Rob,

    The high school pilot will cover all domains – just like the operational. Keep in mind, no test scores will be calculated and reported for the pilot.

    -Jessica

  3. Is there any released sample questions for the middle school test?

  4. Dear Don,

    Not yet. We are expecting early February for practice items – which are different than sample items. The items will be for students to practice with the item types.

    Stay tuned to CSTA – we will send out alerts when they are available.

    Best,

    Jessica

  5. Here you go Don!
    http://www.caaspp.org/practice-and-training/index.html

  6. I took the 5th grade test. Wow. How depressing! Who wrote that? Surely nobody who works with average California 5th graders.

    Yes, you can get students and teachers to rise up to a higher expectation than previously. That happened with Math in the early 2000’s. But students and teachers can only rise so far. Beyond that you’re asking for achievement beyond developmental and socio-cultural realities.

    Good thing it’s only a practice test. The results will be a learning experience for the test developers.

  7. I have a further problem with the 5th grade practice questions: They led test takers to conclude that there was a pollution problem through agricultural runoff, but then they required students to come up with a solution to the problem that involved limited choices that hinted that the solution to water pollution is to get rid of farms. This last part is NOT science; it’s political. One wonders if the writer understands where food comes from.

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