NRC’s report on Developing Assessments for the Next Generation Science Standards

(This is the first is what I anticipate to be a moderately regular series of posts on things I need to think about for my job as the Education Programs Strategist at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. Ideas included are my own, put forward as much to help me get my thought ducks in a row as to share my thinking with anyone.)

I finally read the summary and first two chapter’s of the National Research Council’s report on Developing Assessments for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=18409). Interesting read!

Here’s what I learned:
1. The committee concluded what one would hope – that assessing the NGSS will be challenging and time consuming and quite different from current assessment practice. I’m heartened that they did not conclude otherwise!
2. Here’s a quote from the document’s summary section (Sum-2)

Measuring the learning described in the NGSS will require assessments that are significantly different from those in current use. Specifically, the tasks designed to assess the performance expectations in the Next Generation Science Standards will need to have the following characteristics (Conclusion 4-1):

  • include multiple components that reflect the connected use of different scientific practices in the context of interconnected disciplinary ideas and crosscutting concepts;
  • address the progressive nature of learning by providing information about where students fall on a continuum between expected beginning and ending points in a given unit or grade; and
  • include an interpretive system for evaluating a range of student products that are specific enough to be useful for helping teachers understand the range of student responses and provide tools for helping teachers decide on next steps in instruction.

3. The authors describe three components of the assessment system required to assess the NGSS

      1. assessments designed to support classroom instruction;
      2. assessments designed to monitor science learning on a broader scale; and
      3. a series of indicators to monitor that the students are provided with adequate opportunity to learn science in the ways laid out in the framework and NGSS.

Whatever is eventually developed to address #3 might be an interesting place for organizations like the Gulf of Maine Research Institute to start evaluating the degree to which their own programs offer rich, NGSS-aligned science learning experiences.

4. The authors call for a bottom-up development approach to start with new tools to help teachers measure and direct learning in their classrooms.

The authors also note that “Teachers will need extensive professional development to successfully incorporate this type of assessment into their practice.” Just where this money will come from is not specified, although there is a (concerning) comment that “States will need to include adequate time and resources for professional development so that teachers can be properly prepared and guided…” Oh dear.

Overall, I found the report sobering, but appropriately so. There seems to be energy around creating assessments that truly address the vision of the Framework for K-12 Science Education.