September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

The Future of Science Assessments in California Is on Its Way to the Legislature

Posted: Friday, February 1st, 2013

by Jessica Sawko

On January 8, State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SSPI) Tom Torlakson released his long-awaited Recommendations Report for Transitioning to a Future Assessment System. This report was mandated by legislation (AB 250) and will be used to guide the state legislature in their deliberations as they embark on the process of reauthorizing and revamping California’s statewide assessment system. During its January 16 meeting, the State Board of Education (SBE) received a formal presentation of the report by CDE staff. It is important to note here that this presentation was an information item. The State Board of Education does not have a formal role to play at this point in the assessment discussion. The discussion around the statewide assessment system will take place this year in the state legislature. It has been reported that Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord) will introduce the legislation.

The Recommendations Report includes 12 specific recommendations as well as several “considerations for future discussions” and “alternate approaches.” Overall, the report totals 174 pages. Within the recommendations, considerations, and alternate approaches are several items that relate to the assessment of science. First among these is Recommendation 1, which calls for the suspension of all assessment excepting those required for compliance with ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) or used in the EAP (Early Assessment Program) for the 2013 – 2014 school year. Corresponding changes to the calculation of API (Academic Performance Index) are also called for in the recommendation. In terms of science, this means no end of course exams for science at the high school level; only the CST/CMA/CAPA in science in grades five, eight, and ten would be offered. During the January SBE meeting, SSPI Torlakson reported, “we do feel in the press of budgets and time that it makes sense not to assess students in old standards. Save the money to get us going on developing the curriculum and assessment for science once the standards are adopted and have some additional funds that we can put back into professional development for bringing the assessment system online, the professional development, and focus on being successful in the spring of 2015.”

Recommendation 4 calls for the development and administration of science assessments aligned to the new science standards, once they are adopted. The recommendation calls for compliance with current federal ESEA requirements to test science in grades five, eight, and once in grades ten through twelve. The recommendation is non-specific in regards to other issues, including end of course exams and any role they may play in meeting ESEA requirements. The recommendation does call for science assessments to include item types “consistent with the SBAC [Smarter Balanced/Common Core] assessments (e.g. short and extended constructed-response items and performance tasks).” (Page 43)

Recommendation 5 calls for collaborating with other states to develop alternate assessments in ELA, math, and science for students with cognitive disabilities. The recommendation calls for the development of “new state science alternate assessments consistent with new science standards, once adopted by the SBE in the fall of 2013. Administer the new state science alternate assessments to all eligible students in grades five, eight, and once in grades ten through twelve, as required by ESEA” (page 43).

Recommendation 7 calls for the assessment of the full curriculum using assessments that model high-quality teaching and learning activities. To achieve this goal, the recommendation recommends a multi-year process involving consulting with stakeholders and subject matter experts to develop a plan for assessing beyond what is required by ESEA. The recommendation also includes addressing the issues and concerns around the amount of time students would spend taking tests and offers matrix sampling as a possible solution to the problem.

There are several other recommendations in the report that do not address science specifically, but where there may be room in the upcoming conversations to include science assessment in those recommendations.

In addition to the recommendations, Superintendent Torlakson offered several “alternate approaches for discussion.” One of these is an alternate approach to administering new science assessments:

Once new science assessments are developed, administer them to a state-defined sample of students in grades three through eleven for purposes of providing the state and LEAs with the necessary data to inform the public on academic achievement.

Provide schools and LEAs [Local Education Agency] with the option of administering the new state science assessment to students outside of the state-defined sample for local purposes. Additional information would be available for these voluntary samples at both the school level as well as the student level. If schools or LEAs were to administer assessments to a voluntary sample, they must cover the additional assessment costs, and the data from the voluntary sample will not be reported to the state. (Page 52)

In the summation, the SSPI recognizes that “testing every student in certain grade levels primarily in ELA [English/language arts] and mathematics […] may continue to narrow the curriculum and discourage broader instructional opportunities” (page 49). That is why his recommendations include exploring ways to assess other subjects in a way that would encourage the teaching of the full curriculum to all students.

As recognized during the January SBE meeting, there are a lot of moving parts right now. In response to State Board Member Ilene Strauss’ concerns about this, Deb Sigman (Deputy Superintendent, District, School, and Innovation Branch, California Department of Education) said, “I don’t know if ever before we have had to deal with so many different things all at once.” In addition to the assessment discussions that will be taking place in the legislature, the Public Schools Accountability Act (PSAA) Advisory Committee is busy working in implementing SB 1458 which calls for no more than 60% of the API to consist of standardized test scores. During its November 2012 meeting, one of the components the PSAA Advisory committee discussed adding to the API is a college and career readiness indicator. During the course of the discussion the possibility of adding science assessments and the completion of AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) and/or CTE (Career Technical Education) Pathway programs to the indicator was floated. This conversation was the first of many and will continue in on February 12.

It is only with your help and support that CSTA will be able to participate in both processes. Maintaining your membership, or joining today, will go a long way in insuring that the voice of the science educator is represented during all of these discussions, and make sure that you stay informed an up-to-date on all of these important issues.

Jessica L. Sawko is the executive director of the California Science Teachers Association.

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.

One Response

  1. […] regarding assessment. AB 484 (Bonilla) seeks to implement one of Superintendent Torlakson’s assessment recommendations to suspend all non-federally required and non-EAP STAR assessments for the 2013-2014 school year. […]

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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. 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.

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.