September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

The Nation’s Report Card Releases Results From an Innovative, Interactive Computer-Based Writing Assessment

Posted: Friday, September 14th, 2012

More than three-quarters of 8th- and 12th-grade students perform at or above the Basic level.

WASHINGTON (Sept. 14, 2012) – For the first time in its history, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has used computers to assess students’ writing, with national samples of 8th- and 12th-grade students. Results from NAEP—also known as The Nation’s Report Card—showed that more than 75 percent of students at grades 8 and 12 performed at or above the Basic achievement level, meaning that they have at least partial mastery of the knowledge and skills needed to communicate clearly in writing. But only about a quarter of the 8th and 12th graders wrote at or above the Proficient level, which means they demonstrate solid academic performance.

Writing in the 21st century takes many forms, many of them electronic. Therefore, the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP, designed a new computer-based writing test. The new NAEP writing assessment in 2011 acknowledges the increasing role that technology plays in education. This groundbreaking large-scale assessment not only measures student writing achievement, it also tracks the extent to which students use common word-processing tools when developing their written responses. NAEP has measured writing for nearly four decades using a paper-and-pencil essay format, but the Governing Board determined that a new type of writing assessment was needed in this technology-driven age. For this innovative assessment, the Governing Board defined writing as a complex, multifaceted and purposeful act of communication that is accomplished in a variety of environments, under various constraints of time, and with a variety of language resources and technological tools.

“The pace of written communication in today’s environment reflects the transition to an information-based economy built on complexity and efficiency,” said David P. Driscoll, chairman of the Governing Board. “The Nation’s Report Card’s new computer-based design captures students’ ability to respond clearly and accurately in real-world, on-demand situations and allows NAEP to collect information about how students use technology in developing and editing their writing. These data tell us how well students are writing using the technology they will have in higher education and the workplace.”

In this first year of the computer-based writing assessment, NAEP tested national samples of 24,100 8th graders and 28,100 12th graders. New scales for grades 8 and 12 were developed separately and range from 0 to 300 with a mean set at 150 for each grade. As with all NAEP assessments, results are also reported across three achievement levels: Basic, Proficient, andAdvanced. The Basic level denotes partial mastery of the prerequisite skills and knowledge fundamental for proficient work; Proficient represents solid academic performance; and Advanced represents superior performance. Future results for grades 8 and 12 will be compared with the 2011 results to provide information on achievement trends over time. It is important to note that the 2011 results cannot be compared with previous NAEP writing assessments because of the change to a computer-based format and other new elements in the assessment design. In addition, NAEP conducted a 2012 pilot test in writing using a computer-based format for fourth-grade students. The Governing Board has determined that fourth graders will be included in future computer-based assessments in the coming years. When states have the infrastructure to support NAEP computer-based tests, they can volunteer to participate in future state-level NAEP writing assessments.

“Writing is fundamental to effective communication, especially in an era in which email and other word-processed documents are the norm rather than the exception. Our nation’s students need to write clearly, logically, and accurately. We need to focus on supporting students beyond Basic levels so that they have a solid grasp of effective writing skills,” said Driscoll.

The Governing Board’s goal is that as NAEP frameworks are revised, future NAEP assessments will be delivered via computer using interactive test questions and dynamic scenario-based tasks. The move to an entirely digital format represents an opportunity to collect data about how students use computers, and how this relates to performance on the assessment.

The Nation’s Report Card: Writing 2011 describes the assessment that includes writing situations common to both academic and workplace settings and asks students to write for various purposes and communicate to different audiences. Students were presented with a range of interactive tasks that included short video or audio segments, newspaper articles, data from real-world settings, and other materials on which to base their writing. Each student was given two writing tasks and had 30 minutes to complete each one. At both grades, students’ writing was scored on a six-point scale, ranging from “effective” to “little or no skill.” The scoring acknowledges that students are being evaluated on their first-draft writing in an “on-demand” situation and not on their final, polished pieces of writing. The purpose-driven writing assessment measures how well students develop, organize, and use language to convey ideas. At the same time, the computer-based format allows NAEP to gather data on the extent to which students use commonly available word-processing tools such as spell check, cut, and copy and paste. Click here for an example of an eighth-grade question.

One 12th-grade writing task asked students to explain to a college admissions committee why they value a specific type of technology. Students watched a short video with animations and statistics about technology use and then were asked to write an explanation of the value of technology. Students who wrote at an “effective” level developed explanations that included well-chosen details that enhanced meaning, a clear progression of ideas, precise word choices, and well-controlled sentences. Students scoring at the “adequate” level developed written explanations using some details that did not enhance the clarity or progression of ideas, while organization was somewhat loose and sentence structure was relatively simple.

Additional highlights from Writing 2011:

  • Three percent of both 8th and 12th graders performed at the Advanced level.
  • Twenty-four percent of students at both grades 8 and 12 performed at the Proficient level in writing.
  • Fifty-four percent of 8th graders and 52 percent of 12th graders performed at the Basic level in writing.
  • Twenty percent of 8th graders and 21 percent of 12th graders performed below the Basic level.
  • The eighth-grade average score was higher for Asian students than for other racial/ethnic groups.
  • At grade 12, White students, Asian students, and students of two or more races performed similarly to one another.
  • At both grades, Black and Hispanic students had lower average scores than White students, Asian students, and students of two or more races, and female students outscored male students.
  • At both grades, students who used the backspace key and thesaurus tool more frequently scored higher than those who engaged in these actions less frequently.
  • English language learners were less likely to use the thesaurus tool than non-English language learners.
  • Twelfth-grade students who write four to five pages a week for English language arts homework score higher than those who write fewer pages.
  • The average writing score for grade 8 students attending public schools was 16 points lower than the average score for students attending private schools, and 18 points lower than students in Catholic schools.

The Nation’s Report Card: Writing 2011 results are available at www.nationsreportcard.gov. Visit www.nagb.org/writing2011 for more information on recent results.

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.

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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

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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.