New Science Standards and Implications for Assessment

The Assessment Task Force is getting back together this fall to make recommendations for science assessments now that the State Board of Education has adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, as modified and recommended by the Science Standards Review Team, as the new Iowa Core science standards.

As part of my preparation for this next stage of our work, I’m reading the Science Standards Review Team Report 2015 and trying to make sense of the implications of the new standards for statewide standardized (accountability) assessment. I was also fortunate to have been able to sit down this week with Solon’s Matt Townsley, a knowledgeable, thoughtful, and patient local administrator and assessment enthusiast, who graciously agreed to talk over the new science standards and some implications for assessment with me.

Here’s where I am at in my understanding so far (and, note, that any misunderstandings are my own–if you see any, please leave an explanation in the comments):

The Next Generation Science Standards are made up of Disciplinary Core Ideas (what to teach), Science and Engineering Practices (how to teach), and Crosscutting Concepts (?). These (what and how to teach) have been combined into model Performance Expectations. These Performance Expectations are what have been adopted as Iowa’s science standards with, at least, two modifications.

First, the Science Standards Review Team organized the middle school grade band performance expectations into Iowa specific grade level standards for grades six, seven, and eight. Second, the Science Standards Review Team recommended adoption of the performance expectations without adopting the assessment boundaries and connection boxes.

The Science Standards Review Team did not organize the high school grade band performance expectations into specific grade level standards.

Implications for Statewide Standardized Assessments [more questions, than answers]

As I understand it, there are no NGSS-aligned large-scale standardized assessments currently ready for use and that it can take four or five years to properly develop new standardized assessment. Thus, it seems likely that statewide science assessments will not align with the new science standards for several years or more. [Question: because the Iowa Core standards are required to be implemented already, are changes to the standards required to be implemented immediately?]

Iowa Code 256.7(21)(b)(2) requires, beginning in the 2016-2017 school year, all students in grades three through eleven to be assessed annually in core academic indicators, which include science. In any case, some school districts may be assessing science annually to evaluate effectiveness of curriculum and/or to monitor annual student progress (are students making a year’s worth of progress each year?).

If other states are only assessing students in science in grades five, eight, and eleven, what are the prospects for Iowa working with other states to develop a large-scale science assessment aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards? Surely other states won’t want to share the costs of developing assessments at other grade levels they won’t be using.

Without specific grade level standards for grades nine, ten, and eleven, how should the assessment developer determine which standards to assess on each grade level assessment?

Conversely, if the Iowa Legislature were, for instance, to determine that science should only be assessed statewide at grades five, eight, and eleven after all, does that undermine the work of having made Iowa-specific changes to the NGSS? [Questions: should we make changes in Iowa for the purpose of working with other states? If we don’t, does that affect comparability of state assessment results? How much does that actually matter?]

Where does that leave Iowa districts in evaluating science curriculum and tracking annual progress of students? Possibly with non-aligned standardized science assessments? Locally created assessments? [Questions: is it essential or important to track annual student progress in science or is it qualitatively different than math and reading? What does that mean for statewide STEM initiatives–does not measuring annually devalue science in any important respects? How many data points are needed to effectively evaluate curriculum?]

The assessment boundaries, not required in Iowa, are apparently meant to guide the development of large scale assessments. See, for instance, this example used by NGSS in the document linked in the preceding sentence [click to make larger]:

NGSS example

As the assessment boundaries are not required (not adopted as part of the standards), should they still be used to guide development of statewide assessments? If they are used to guide statewide assessments, does that make them, in effect, required anyway? If they aren’t used to guide development of the assessments, then what?

What is (or should be) the purpose of statewide assessment in Iowa–accountability for what to teach or for what and how to teach? If students are content proficient, how much does how they were taught matter from a statewide, rather than local, perspective?

Performance assessments are significantly costlier in time to administer and money (particularly in human scoring of constructed responses). That suggests assessment at grades five, eight, and eleven rather than annually–unless school districts suddenly receive a state funding windfall that covers all assessment costs plus added time in the year to make up for instructional hours lost to statewide assessment. Assuming no funding windfall, do we gain enough from performance assessments to justify either the diversion of additional time and money from instruction or the loss of annual data?

What am I missing–or misunderstanding? What else should I know–or should I be reading up on–for this next round of Assessment Task Force work?

Added (9/24): If we assess only grades 5, 8, and 11, what do we assess? Just grade level content (leaving grade level content for grades 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, and 10 unassessed) or assess grade bands (perhaps spending only 1/3 of each assessment on each grade level and covering fewer of the grade level standards)? What are the “teaching to the test” implications of either of these decisions?

One question answered: full K-12 implementation of the new science standards is expected for the 2018-2019 school year. Question: what to use for science assessment until that year and can an NGSS-aligned assessment be properly developed in time to be used beginning in that year (roughly three years out, and assessments may take four to five years to develop).