Technology-Enhanced Assessments for NGSS Classrooms
Let’s say your state has adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). You’ve learned the lingua franca of three-dimensional learning and can speak fluently in acronyms: DCIs are the disciplinary core ideas, CCCs the crosscutting concepts, and SEPs the science and engineering practices. You’re thoughtful about implementing content-rich activities in your classroom, looking for opportunities to engage students in authentic practices such as asking questions and defining problems, planning and carrying out investigations, or analyzing and interpreting data, all while attuned to linking to structure, systems, patterns, or one of the other crosscutting concepts. But with such a robust description of science learning embodied in the NGSS, how, you wonder, can you assess student understanding with evidence that students are building proficiency toward NGSS performance expectations (PEs)?
To address this challenge, the Next Generation Science Assessment (NGSA) Collaborative has developed technology-enhanced science assessment tasks, rubrics, and accompanying instructional resources for elementary and middle school classrooms that are enacting NGSS-aligned instruction. Assessment tasks are available for Grades 3–5 in physical science, life science, and Earth and space science and for the middle grade band (Grades 6–8) in life science and physical science.
The NGSA Collaborative was founded by researchers and technology developers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, WestEd, Michigan State University, and the Concord Consortium (SRI International was also involved in early work). This core group has developed and continues to develop the middle school tasks. A subset of the collaborative, joined by the UChicago STEM Education group, is actively engaged in elementary task development. This work is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
Developing assessment tasks
How do we assess success in reaching NGSS performance expectations? Assessments should measure knowledge-in-use through the integration of the three dimensions of learning specified by the NGSS, and they must, by definition, include student performance. Because science practices are an essential component of each NGSS performance expectation, new ways of thinking about assessment item design are critical.
The Next Generation Science Assessment middle school and elementary teams are in the process of completing over 200 individual assessment tasks. We start by identifying a PE or related cluster of PEs and unpacking the associated NGSS dimensions (DCIs, CCCs, and SEPs). We then create a mapping of these components to formulate Learning Performances (LPs). Like the performance expectations from which they are derived, LPs are three dimensional but represent a smaller target for assessment than the often quite broad NGSS PEs. Multiple LPs together provide guidance regarding student progress toward an individual or small cluster of PEs.1 For instance, for the PE MS-LS1-6 Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for the role of photosynthesis in the cycling of matter and flow of energy into and out of organisms, we created five LPs.
Because engagement in scientific practices can be greatly facilitated through technical affordances, we carefully consider during the task design process where technology can best be applied to achieve the task assessment goals. Tasks are offered in an authoring and delivery platform the NGSA Collaborative helped to develop and include embedded computational models, videos, and data analysis tools, plus drawing and other modeling tools to facilitate student demonstration of their understanding. We review the tasks for scientific accuracy, equity, and fairness, and pilot them with students in classroom and lab settings. They are then published to the NGSA task portal.
On the NGSA task portal, for example, one can find a cluster of PEs focused around kinetic and potential energy encompassing the following middle school PEs: MS-PS3-1, MS-PS3-2, and MS-PS3-5. The first of eleven LPs associated with this cluster of PEs is “LP KE01: Students construct and interpret a graphical display to describe the proportional relationship of kinetic energy to the mass of a moving object.” One of the tasks created for this LP, titled “Zach’s Toy Car,”2 provides a video for students to experience the phenomenon of a toy car rolling down a ramp, along with experimental data of the mass of the car and the distance a block positioned at the end of the ramp moves when hit by the car (Figure 1). An embedded data analysis and visualization tool allows students to quickly generate graphs of the data and interpret data to solve a problem.
At the elementary level for the NGSS performance expectation 3-LS1-1, which is centered around life cycles, we developed two LPs, the first of which is “LP 3-L01: Students develop or revise a model to show similarities in the life cycles of different plants and animals, using patterns they have identified.”3 A task for this LP, titled “Sunflowers, Frogs, and Birds: Create a Model,” offers students a customized tool to create a model illustration of their conceptual understanding of the life cycles of various organisms (Figure 2). The model building tool provides students an opportunity to express their understanding beyond the traditional task of writing.
The tasks are available on the NGSA task portal.4 We hope that this extensive set of assessment tasks and the process we use to develop them inspires others, so that more students have opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of the three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards and teachers can make informed decisions about next steps in working with their students to achieve their learning goals guided by the NGSS.
|MS-LS1-6. Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for the role of photosynthesis in the cycling of matter and flow of energy into and out of organisms.|
LP P01: Students analyze and interpret data to determine whether plants and other photosynthetic organisms grow with the input of energy from sunlight.
LP P02: Students analyze and interpret data to determine whether plants and other photosynthetic organisms take in water, carbon dioxide, and energy (e.g., sunlight), to produce food (sugar) and oxygen.
LP P03: Students develop a model that shows that plants (or other photosynthetic organisms) take in water and carbon dioxide to form food (sugar) and oxygen.
LP P04: Students evaluate how well a model shows that plants and other photosynthetic organisms use energy from the Sun to drive the production of food (sugar) and oxygen.
LP P05: Students construct a scientific explanation for how plants (and other photosynthetic organisms) are able to use energy and matter from the sugar they produce to grow and support their other necessary (life-supporting) functions.
1. For more information about our task development process see nextgenscienceassessment.org/design-process
4. Assessment tasks are free to use and are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which means you’re welcome to copy, distribute, and display them as long as you attribute the Next Generation Science Assessment project and do not use them commercially.
Dan Damelin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior scientist.
Cynthia McIntyre (email@example.com) is the director of communications.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant DRL-1813737, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding agencies.