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3-dimensional NGSS assessments

29 Aug 3-Dimensional Assessments in the NGSS Classroom

By Helen Maltese, Rubicon International

Curriculum developers, state boards of education, and teachers have been trying to crack the code for 3D NGSS assessments since the NGSS was introduced in 2013. As teachers, we now have a better understanding of what an NGSS classroom looks like and how to approach instruction and shift our curriculum to include the 3 dimensions. But, how do we measure NGSS learning? How do we shift our assessments to align to the NGSS?

The most valuable conversations during NSTA 2017 focused on classroom assessments , and below we highlight the key ideas behind making the shift from traditional assessments to 3-dimensional NGSS assessments.

Create an Assessment System for Each Unit

Because the NGSS performance expectations are rich, layered standards, we need to use multiple methods of assessments that build on one another before we can fully test our students on the expectations. Using a system of assessments allows us to monitor the learning progress in our classrooms, and ultimately determine where each student falls on the continuum of learning.

This system should be comprised of both formative and summative assessments. Formative NGSS assessments help inform instruction and track student progress towards meeting the performance expectation, and can range from guided class discussions, group research, or individual student-created models. It’s likely that your formative assessments have guided questions or a guided format that provide students with hints and support.

Summative assessments culminate each NGSS unit and should be familiar to your students (i.e. look like the instructional unit they just experienced) from the types of questions to the core concepts. Students should be assessed on how well they explain a new situation or phenomena, that reflects the original unit storyline. Within the exam, students will mirror the steps you took together, as a class, except now without any hints or guidance.

A key component of the assessment system, is a complementary interpretive system to evaluate the range of student performance. To create a rubric, think of possible student responses and determine how they fit along points of the learning progression. It’s also helpful to have a past examples of student work. To see an example of an assessment system, read Chapter 2 in Seeing Students Learn Science. And then read the entire publication, because it’s fire.

Focus on Student Performance and Thinking

Performance of NGSS Practices

Instead of testing students on their ability to memorize facts, we want to assess students on their ability to do science. The “do” is captured in the Science & Engineering Practices of the NGSS, and it’s key to remember that the word “practices” is used intentionally and is not synonymous with “skills”. A skill is the ability for a student to do something – it’s simply the how – whereas a practice is more than just how to do something (the skill), but also when and why the skill is applied in different situations. The emphasis on both student application and understanding transforms summative assessments to performance-based using authentic tasks.

Meta-cognition – find out how your students are thinking

Ideally, formative assessments tell us about how students are thinking about the task, because we’re just as interested in how they arrived at their answer as we are in their final answer. As we’re shifting our classroom focus to student processing of a scientific problem, we also need to reflect this shift in our assessments. One way to get insight into student thinking is through discussion. If we can walk them through their thinking aloud, we can figure out where their misunderstandings lie, where they’re misstepping. Then we can course correct their knowledge in the next class. For tips on productive classroom talk, check out Talk Science Primer.

Approach Assessments Like a Scientist

We need to be critical of the assessments we use to be sure that they’re able to tell us what we want to know about our students’ knowledge and understanding. Approaching assessments like scientific investigations ensures that we’re measuring what we’re curious about, and that we’ll be able to interpret the results. Depending on how a student scores on each assessment, will you be able to determine where they need more instruction or support? Make sure that each assessment has a clear purpose and that you can draw valid conclusions.

Keep in Mind

The implementation of the NGSS should be done slowly and thoughtfully, and likewise, the process of bringing assessments up to speed with the NGSS is going to be gradual. District and statewide tests are harder and slower to create, and therefore, as teachers, we can start taking steps now to create our own assessments to measure 3-dimensional learning. Remember that our classrooms are centered around our students and our goal is to make science relevant in their lives. Happy planning!

For more assessment-related resources, check out:

Check out our past blogposts for a deep dive into NGSS instruction: Making Formative Assessments for NGSS and Using Phenomena to Engage Students

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