May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. 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.