Report Tackles Assessment Design for Next Generation Science Standards


If the new science standards could be summed up in one grand sentence, it would likely be – “It is not what you know, but how you use and apply what you know that makes a real difference for science learning.”

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) emphasize that all students should learn science by actively using and applying knowledge. This is a big shift for science education as the standards themselves, called “performance expectations,” require that all students engage in the practices of scientists and engineers to investigate and explain the natural world or design solutions to problems.

Importantly, each NGSS performance expectation integrates three dimensions of science proficiency by combining a science or engineering practice, disciplinary core idea, and cross-cutting concept into a single statement of what is to be achieved by students at the end of a grade level or grade band.

A formidable challenge facing science teachers who bring NGSS into their classrooms is how to gauge student progress. The Next Generation Science Assessment (NGSA) group is a multi-institutional collaborative that is developing classroom-ready assessment tasks for science teachers to gain insights into their students’ progress toward achieving the NGSS performance expectations. The group is a collaboration among experts in science education and assessment from SRI Education, Michigan State University, University of Illinois, and the Concord Consortium.

Having the right kinds of assessments is critically important because they guide what teachers and students attend to during instruction. High quality assessments can help teachers implement new standards, help students learn more, and provide equitable opportunities for all students to develop their proficiency with science.

Our approach to designing assessment tasks to support NGSS teaching and learning is described in the report, Constructing Assessment Tasks that Blend Disciplinary Core Ideas, Crosscutting Concepts, and Science Practices for Classroom Formative Applications .

To realize the ambitious call of NGSS, all students will need opportunities to go beyond memorizing facts and toward engaging in science and engineering practices as a means to use and apply science knowledge. The NGSA group has recognized a need for a clear and efficient approach to designing assessment tasks so that teachers can support their students in making progress toward achieving the new standards. The report describes our NGSS-focused approach and provides examples to illustrate each design step.

To meet the goal of developing assessment tasks that can support NGSS instruction, we systematically unpack NGSS performance expectations into statements called learning performances, which guide assessment task development for classroom use.

Learning performances are akin to learning goals that take on the structure of the performance expectations—they articulate and integrate assessable aspects of performance that build toward the more comprehensive NGSS performance expectations. A single learning performance describes an essential part of a performance expectation that students would need to achieve at some point during instruction to ensure that they are progressing toward achieving the more comprehensive performance expectation. Together, a set of learning performances provides the detail needed to create a coherent set of assessment tasks covering the full scope of a performance expectation.

The NGSA group is currently using learning performances to develop assessment tasks and rubrics for use in middle school physical science and life science classrooms. We are also creating accompanying instructional resources for teachers that provide guidance on how to use the tasks to support instruction.

The tasks are delivered through an online portal that gives flexibility to teachers. Each task requires students to demonstrate the three dimensions of NGSS performance. The design features of tasks are varied in ways that provide different levels of scaffolding appropriate for different levels of ability and for diverse classroom settings.

To learn more about the NGSA design effort and review the tasks, visit the NGSA website:

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-1316903.  Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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