March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Shifts in Types of Assessment with NGSS

Posted: Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

by Heather Wygant

With NGSS, we are rewriting our curriculum and reevaluating how we teach and assess our students. Many of us are looking at more Project-Based Learning and incorporating more engineering projects into what we already do. But what about the way we assess our students?

For years we have trained students to take multiple-choice tests, but now we are facing the possibility of more open-ended, problem solving, written tasks for science assessment. How do we switch from the memorization of facts to the understanding of concepts, and what does that look like for assessments in our classroom?

I have given a few assessments this year attempting to make this drastic shift from multiple-choice (MC) to free response. I can state that some assessments have completely bombed! Consequently, I wanted to share some of what I have learned from these experiences.

We, as teachers, will need to scaffold the shift to free response for our students. We cannot just jump from fact-based MC type tests to free response questions overnight, or even within a week. I experienced this clearly when I gave my first astronomy free response assessment the first semester of this year. The Geology Professional Learning Community (PLC) wanted to do a free response type unit exam, so we gave our students 4 questions that encompassed the major themes of the astronomy unit. A few of our brightest and best were able to tackle this with some decent results, but a majority of the students really struggled. Many of them did not know where to even start answering the questions, even though they could explain it to us verbally after the test was turned in. They just did not know how to get it from their brain onto the paper.

This semester, we are working on smaller pieces woven throughout the units, where students have to answer conceptual questions. When we are providing the free response questions, it is not just a simple statement such as the following, “Explain how the density of water affects ocean currents.” Instead we are providing sentence frames, or prompts to help get students started in answering the questions. These frames provide a base for students to start the questions. For example, if asking for a response about the water cycle, the students are given frames such as, “The water cycle begins with…., then it …, from there it …….” These prompts are there to get the sentence started and provide a sequence for students to move through the process, and it does not fill in the content. As adults, we tend to do this automatically, but our students do not always know how to do this even at the high school level. We still need to help students transition what they learn in English classes to our content. This is a new process for teachers that have been teaching fact-based assessment for the past 10 years

Once the group of teachers in our PLC started providing some sentence frames for our students, our free response submissions improved in quality dramatically. We went from seeing a 10% success rate to an 80% success rate in terms of quality of responses after one test just by using sentence frames to help students get started.  I was impressed

Now we are using these sentence starters in our day-to-day lessons. We’re helping them to make successful connections with the Common Core by having our students structure their learning on a more regular basis in class. The goal is to use these frames regularly in the student learning process so that by the time they get to the summary assessments, they will be experts at how to construct free response answers, regardless of the content.

Written by Heather Wygant

Heather Wygant

Heather Wygant teaches CP geology at Sobrato High School in Morgan Hill, CA and is a member of CSTA.

One Response

  1. Can classroomscience or CST host a page(s) wehre these prompts can be posted. I am sure many are working on this (including my school) and reinventing the wheel many times is a waste (IMHO).

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