Michigan State to help develop Next Generation science assessments

February 4, 2014

STEM1Michigan State University is one of four leading research institutions that have been awarded a $2.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a new system of classroom assessments that aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

The four-year, collaborative grant was awarded to MSU, the University of Illinois at Chicago, SRI International and the Concord Consortium. The group will create a dramatically different system that includes new task templates, assessment items, and lesson rubrics that integrate technology and advanced psychometric models to measure student performance under NGSS.

“Currently, few supports are in place to guide the successful implementation of NGSS,” said Joseph S. Krajcik, director of MSU’s CREATE for STEM Institute.

Developing new assessments is important because NGSS significantly changes the way science is taught in K-12 schools, and changes what students are expected to know and be able to do at each grade level. The new standards are aimed at making science education more closely resemble the way scientists work and think, and are based on research about learning that demonstrates the importance of building coherent understandings over time.

The new approach to science education envisioned under NGSS depends on high-quality, aligned assessments of student learning. With that in mind, the collaboration aims to help provide educators with new models and methods to help students succeed under the new standards.

“What we have proposed to develop and implement, with its focus on teachers’ use of assessment to support learning within the classroom, is precisely what has been recommended in a major report issued very recently by the National Research Council on the development of science assessments aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards,” said James W. Pellegrino, co-director of the Learning Sciences Research Institute at University of Illinois at Chicago.

The report, Developing Assessments for the Next Generation Science Standards, argues that states will no longer be able to rely on single, end-of-the-year tests to monitor student progress in science, and recommends a strategy that includes the use of a variety of assessments, such as those administered by teachers regularly throughout the academic year.

“NSF’s funding of this project reflects our commitment to understanding and measuring student learning outcomes in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM),” said Julio Lopez-Ferrao, NSF program director. “Through this project, the collaborators join efforts to advance the assessment field consistent with the vision articulated by the National Academies.”

The collaborators on this project are creating a system for middle-school chemistry curricula, which will be piloted in classrooms in Illinois, Florida and Wisconsin. The system will address a core idea in physical science — matter and its interactions — by integrating content on the structure and properties of matter, chemical reactions and energy with two important scientific practices, constructing explanations and developing and using models.

One of the important goals of the project will be to include teachers in the design process, said Angela DeBarger, a senior research scientist at SRI International. “The research team will co-design with teachers a set of effective strategies for using the assessments formatively and to monitor student learning as a basis for instructional decision making.”