Science Assessment for the Next Generation

Science Assessments, NGSS, Next Generation Science Standards, Large-Scale Assessment, Statewide AssessmentNearly two dozen states have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)* or similar integrated standards that set a new direction for science education and assessment. The NGSS join Science and Engineering Practices with Disciplinary Core Ideas and Crosscutting Concepts to make up three-dimensional performance expectations (PEs).

Of course, science educators already use scientific practices, teach content, and present big ideas. What’s new is that the NGSS require teachers to integrate those areas in instruction—and they require students to synthesize information differently.

  • New expectations for educators—Multi-dimensional standards require science educators to integrate content, practices, and crosscutting concepts in instruction.
  • New expectations for student performance—Students need to think like scientists, demonstrating rich understanding and discovery across all dimensions of the PEs.

A Challenging Transition

Two factors inhibit states’ and educators’ progress toward implementing the standards: time and lack of continuity.

  • Time—The standards are not merely updates or revisions. They require a new way of thinking about instruction and assessment. Busy teachers need time to truly understand them, and to plan and incorporate new methods of instruction and testing. Plus, students need time to work with materials and approaches that require them to learn and respond differently.
  • Continuity—Most states and districts are using their existing science assessments, while they develop assessments aligned to the new standards. Students are being tested on the previous standards at the same time as their classroom learning is changing. It’s especially challenging for teachers to make instruction and assessment cohesive as they address both previous and new sets of standards.

Support and Innovation

We’ve created a dedicated NGSS Solutions team to help state leaders and educators make the transition. The team takes a two-pronged approach—helping states leverage familiar assessment approaches, while introducing integrated and innovative items—so that change can begin quickly. We help states identify attainable goals to guide the transition, based on each state’s timeline and needs.

Oklahoma item and test designs: We created new item specifications for Oklahoma that take into account the complexity of three-dimensional instruction and performance expectations. In the new science assessments, multiple items in “clusters” are based on a single stimulus. The clusters include various item types that collectively assess all three dimensions of the standards. In Spring 2016, students were exposed to field-test items built to the new specs, along with their continuing science assessment. This prepared them to demonstrate their understanding in the first full operational assessment based on the new standards, which took place in Spring 2017.

Maryland high school science assessment: Through a new contract awarded in Spring 2017, Measured Progress is working with the Maryland State Department of Education and educators across the state to develop a new, NGSS-based assessment. The new assessments are based on the item-cluster model, and are administered entirely online. The test design includes a large number of technologically-enhanced items. In addition to in-line choice and “hot-spot” interactions, the assessment will include significantly interactive response types such as drag-and-drop (for modeling) and graphing. The transition from old to new assessment standards will take place in Spring 2018 with a statewide field test of the new assessment, followed by the first operational administration in Spring 2019.


Download sample NGSS items for grade 5, middle school, and high school.

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Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System transition: The next-generation Massachusetts science assessments are based on multi-dimensional science standards and include both standalone items and item “modules,” like clusters. Measured Progress and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) are phasing in both the new assessments and online administration. Online item interactions will include drag-and-drop, graphing, and text selection. Pilot testing of the new items began in Spring 2017 for grades 5 and 8, and will follow in Spring 2018 for high school biology and physics. Full operational implementation will take place in Spring 2019 and Spring 2020, respectively. We’ve collaborated with the ESE on numerous innovative assessment programs for more than 20 years.

NECAP inquiry tasks: We worked with the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) to develop their science assessment starting in 2006. In 2008, we helped introduce groundbreaking “inquiry tasks”—which required group investigation and individual reflection and response. These performance assessments pointed the way toward an integrated model of student response.

In its 2014 report, Developing Assessments for the Next Generation Science Standards, the National Research Council specifically highlighted the NECAP tasks, noting that they “require that students demonstrate science practices and interpret the results”—in essence, that students demonstrate integrated, multi-dimensional knowledge. (National Research Council. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2014. page 151.)

*NGSS is a registered trademark of Achieve. Neither Achieve nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards were involved in the production of this product, and do not endorse it.