September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Science Assessment & Accountability Update – FAQs Included

Posted: Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

by Jessica Sawko

On March 31, 2015 participants from the Science Assessment Stakeholder Meetings held in July 2014 were invited to participate in a follow up meeting to provide input on what a formative component, a Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Digital Center, should look like for California. This NGSS Digital Center could include formative assessment tools similar to that of the Smarter Balanced Digital Library for ELA and mathematics. This meeting will take place at the end of April 2015. This is very exciting news as it gives some insight to the direction the state may take with the future statewide assessment system to support the Next Generation Science Standards. 

At the March 11, 2015 State Board of Education meeting, the board reviewed the proposed format for the statewide assessment results report that will be sent home to parents. While a student’s performance on the assessments will not be part of a school or district accountability measure (see California State Board of Education Approves Suspension of State’s Accountability Measurement System), parents will receive a report of how their child performed on the assessments currently underway across the state. This report home will include the results of the science test given in grades 5, 8, and 10. Consequently, CSTA provided feedback to the board regarding the language accompanying that report. In response to CSTA’s recommendation, the State Board directed staff to modify the language from that originally proposed, along with other edits recommended. The final version of the report has not yet been made available. CSTA has heard many concerns from members across the state concerns about the mixed message of beginning to implement new science standards while requiring students to take a test based on the old standards. With this in mind, CSTA has worked with the state to provide a clear message home to parents about the purpose of the state science assessment and its lack of applicability to the new standards.

CSTA and our partners have developed a list of science assessment FAQs. We have been able to generate answers to many. The following is a list of FAQs which we are able to provide answers to at this time:


  • What is being tested this year? Students in grades 5, 8, and 10 will take the paper and pencil assessment formerly known as the CSTs, CMAs, and CAPA. (Source: CDE)
  • At which grade level? 5, 8, and 10 (Source: CDE)
  • For how long will these tests be in place?  Until an assessment aligned to the CA NGSS is implemented – based on the currently approved timeline for assessment implementation, this means the “old” tests will be administered through the 2016/2017 school year. (Source: CDE)
  • Will it count in AYP/API calculations? For API – not in 2014/2015 – after this year it is not yet determined. (Source: CDE) For AYP – science is not a part of AYP other than it’s role in calculating growth API
  • Will the AYP and API be the measures, or will something else be developed? If yes, what and when? AYP is a federal measure. API is a California measure. AYP will continue unless the Federal government makes changes to it if and when re-authorizes ESEA. In March 2015, the State Board of Education received a recommendation from its advisory committee (source: EdSource), the Public Schools Accountability Act Committee (PSAA). That recommendation was that the state move away from a single measure (API) and move toward a system of multiple measures (source: EdSource). The earliest this new system could be in place, at least in part, is the fall of 2016.
  • How will the NGSS test be phased in? when will it be developed? Piloted? Field tested? Counted? In 2015/2016 development of the new CAASPP Science Assessment (for NGSS) will begin. Development of the new assessment will include:

Standards analysis and development of content, item/task, and test specifications, blueprints, and achievement level descriptors

Development of achievement standards for alternate assessments

Development of computer-based and paper-based items, tasks, and scoring guides

Development of formative assessment tools

The current timeline (link to outside source) calls for the new assessment to be piloted in 2016/2017, field tested in 2017/2018, and fully operational in 2018/2019. The question of accountability for this assessment has not yet been addressed. (Source: CDE)

  • When the NGSS test is being developed, piloted, field tested etc, will the old CST test still be given? If yes, why? Yes, the test commonly known as the science CST will continue to be administered until a successor assessment is in place to comply with federal testing requirements (Source: Ed Code)
  • Will the current 5th, 8th and 10th grade test be reported on something like the AYP or API or some other measure? For how long? Student participation in the science test will be reported as a part of AYP. Student performance on the science assessment will not be a part of the 2014/2015 API, as this measure is not being calculated. Its role in a future accountability measure has not yet been determined.
  • What communication can CDE provide to parents, district superintendents/principals to transition to the new standards even while the old standards are being tested? Some of the communication to parents will be included on the individual student reports (see section above about the draft report). CSTA and others have requested CDE develop a communication to parents and administrators and we hope that one will be provided by CDE soon. 

NCLB/Federal Testing Questions Once NGSS Assessments Are Operational:

  • What grade levels might be addressed by the federal requirement? Unless there is a change in federal ESEA requirements, science be assessed at least once each in grades 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12. 
  • Will the test be comprehensive (all of the non-tested years prior) or just a single grade level? This has not yet been determined. 
  • Will there be ONE test and will it be solely computer based? (same test regardless of integrated vs discipline specific instruction at MS and HS) The content and grade level of the assessments have not been determined yet. The assessments will most likely be computer based. The likelihood of computer-based assessment is determined from interpreting the RFS distributed by CDE for the development of the new science assessments (source: CDE)


  • Will there be a “NGSS Digital library” like Smarter Balance? Possibly. ETS is convening a second stakeholder meeting at the end of April 2015 to gather input on the development of such a library.
  • Will formative tools be developed by the state for use by teachers in the classroom? Unknown at this time, however this was discussed during the science assessment stakeholder group meetings in July 2014


  • In what grades will science be tested – for non-Federally mandated tests- in the new statewide assessment system? Unknown at this time. The Superintendent of Public Instruction must take the recommendation to the State Board of Education by March 1, 2016. (Source: Ed Code
  • Will there be end of course exams in high school? Unknown at this time. The Superintendent of Public Instruction must take the recommendation to the State Board of Education by March 1, 2016. (Source: Ed Code
  • Will there be a primary assessment to give a snapshot of primary grades? At what grade might this assessment be placed? Unknown at this time. The Superintendent of Public Instruction must take the recommendation to the State Board of Education by March 1, 2016. (Source: Ed Code
  • Will we be testing every student on the same test or using a matrix testing model? Unknown at this time. The Superintendent of Public Instruction must take the recommendation to the State Board of Education by March 1, 2016. (Source: Ed Code
  • Will the state (non Federal) tests be paper and pencil/ lab performance/computer based? Unknown at this time. The Superintendent of Public Instruction must take the recommendation to the State Board of Education by March 1, 2016. (Source: Ed Code
  • Will the new assessments include performance tasks? Unknown at this time. The Superintendent of Public Instruction must take the recommendation to the State Board of Education by March 1, 2016. (Source: Ed Code


  • What percentage of any reporting mechanism will the new CA-NGSS assessment account towards—in elementary, middle and high school?  Unknown at this time. The state, in collaboration with WestEd, is developing the LCFF evaluation rubrics, which must address the 8 state priorities – two of which apply directly to science, priority #2 the implementation of state standards, and priorities #7 and #8 which address student access to a broad course of study (including science among other subjects) and student outcomes in those subjects (including science). For more information about LCFF and the evaluation rubrics under development, please visit The State Board of Education recently approved of the PSAA committee’s recommendation to move away from a single measure (API) to a system of multiple measures. Where the results of the new science assessments will fall into this new accountability puzzle has not yet been determined.
  • Who will be writing the questions for these tests?  The state board of education will award the contract to the company that will develop the new federally required science assessments at their May 2015 meeting. ETS was selected as the preferred vendor, however the details of the contract are still being negotiated and the final contract will be voted on at the May 2015 meeting. (Source: Sacramento Bee)
  • How will the results be reported to teachers, students, parents, districts? Unknown at this time, however it is likely that they will be reported on the same report as the SBAC assessment results.
  • Will teachers be given more descriptive reports to improve instruction or will the reports just show overall performance on the standards? Unknown at this time. However, in 2013 State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson released his Recommendations for Transitioning California to a Future Assessment System, in which he called for:

…establishing a bold and innovative assessment system that includes a variety of assessment approaches and item types that model and promote high-quality teaching and student learning and sets a course to ensure that all California students are well prepared to enter college and careers in today’s competitive global economy.


  • What if anything, and when if ever, will there be something happening with CAHSEE? Might it be eliminated? Replaced by Grade 11 SBAC? Updated it to align with CCSS? If it is updated or replaced might science finally be part of the exit exam? Senator Carol Liu has introduced legislation (SB-172) to suspend passing the CAHSEE as a requirement for graduation for three years beginning in 2016/2017. The bill also requires the Superintendent to convene an advisory panel to provide recommendations to the Superintendent on the continuation of the high school exit examination. This recommendation, if the law is enacted, will require the recommendation be presented by the March 1, 2016 deadline mentioned above. (Source: SB-172)
  • Will there be assessment of “opportunity to learn science” that measures things like time devoted to science, access to hands- on materials, and teacher professional development and preparation for science content and pedagogy? It is possible that these may be measures that a local district may choose to use as part of the LCFF evaluation rubric, however it is not known at this time as the rubrics are under development.

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Written by Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko is CSTA’s Executive Director.

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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at 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.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. 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.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” 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.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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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.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.