IMPORTANT: Our pricing will be updated effective August 15, 2022.


The Assessment Corner: Assessing the Three Dimensions of the NGSS

Kathy Long, FOSS Assessment Coordinator, Lawrence Hall of Science
March 07, 2017 | Assessment

The FOSS project developed its assessment system through an NSF-funded project ASK (Assessing Science Knowledge, 2003–2009). During that six-year project, we worked extensively with teachers in nine school districts and educational service areas to create what has now been embedded in FOSS Next Generation and Third Editions. Some of you may be asking, if those assessments were created before the NGSS existed, how can we use them for gathering three-dimensional data about our students' performance? The ASK Project helped us to determine what were the most effective formats for assessment, and what pieces of a system worked best for teachers and students. The content for each assessment in the Next Generation and Third Editions has been updated to match the recommendations set forth in the National Research Council's A Framework for K–12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (2012) and the NGSS.

The diagram on the next page shows the basic structure of how the assessments have been designed into "sets" for the new editions. Not every assessment item assesses all three dimensions of NGSS, but we have done our best to make them at least two-dimensional, and given any one performance assessment or I-check you will find all three dimensions interwoven within the set of assessment items.

Performance assessments. These assessments occur generally once during each investigation. In earlier editions, we included performance assessments at the end of a module to be completed with the posttest. We've incorporated performance assessments strategically into the regular FOSS investigation sequence, so the investigations and performance assessments are one and the same. During these investigations we have provided specific information about which practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts are best assessed during the investigation. Performance assessments focus equally on practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts.

Embedded assessments. These formative assessments occur daily, (you could consider performance assessments a sub-category of embedded assessments). They include looking at students' answers to focus questions, response sheets, and other notebook entries. These assessments focus mainly on the disciplinary core ideas—what sense are the students making of investigations that utilize practices and crosscutting concepts in order to build their science content knowledge. In the Assessment chapter of the Investigations Guide, there is a technique called the Reflective Assessment Practice that explains how to review a sample of student work in as little time as 10 minutes. The importance of this practice is to make students' thinking visible on a regular basis in order for teachers to make informed decisions about their next steps in instruction and whether those next steps need to focus on practices, content, or crosscutting concepts.

Benchmark assessments. These assessments are composed of multiple-choice, multiple-answer, short-answer, and open-response items in typical test formats. The items are designed to be two- or three-dimensional. These items are more content focused, but do include items that clearly assess practices and crosscutting concepts. The items are coded holistically, to assess the students' ability to integrate the disciplinary core ideas with science practices and recognize crosscutting concepts.

Benchmark assessments serve a dual purpose. They can be used to continue the formative assessment work of the embedded assessments, and we highly encourage this use for developing a classroom with a growth mindset. They can also be used for summative assessment, when grades are needed. If grades are given, we suggest that students still be given the opportunity to self-assess their work and improve their responses needed before a grade is assigned (see "The Assessment Corner," FOSS Newsletter, Fall 2016, for more suggestions). These assessments, like the embedded assessments, provide diagnostic information for teachers as well as students, and give enough information to determine which dimension(s) needs more work.

A model for teaching and learning using the FOSS assessment system.

A model for teaching and learning using the FOSS assessment system.

Interim assessments. This is a new set of assessment items that we are currently developing. As various groups around the country have begun to develop "NGSS Three-Dimensional Assessments" mainly to anticipate the assessments that states will be developing, we have been keeping an eye on their work. What we generally see are item bundles being used to assess the three dimensions. There is a context-setting scenario to set the scene and describe a phenomenon for students to think about. Sometimes this scenario includes a short investigation to complete or an artifact for students to consider (such as a set of data, a graph, a video, or an online activity). Then there are items that focus on the dimensions of science learning in order to provide a three-dimensional look at student progress. For these assessments, we will try to tease apart the three dimensions of the NGSS.

Our plan is to create two interim assessments for each module, one that can be given halfway through a module and the other after instruction is completed. We will pilot these assessments for grades 3–5 in March 2017, then continue the process to include grades K–2 and middle school in the near future.

In summary, the FOSS assessment system is in step with the recommendations of various organizations calling for three-dimensional assessments. As more groups provide examples of these assessments, we will update our system as needed. Right now, we know we have a good system that is especially strong in formative assessment. As developers of a curriculum project, not developers of state assessments, formative assessment is the most important place for us to focus. This ensures that teachers and students get the information they need on a timely basis to inform instruction and continuously improve student learning.

A note about FOSSmap: We want to thank all of you who have logged onto FOSSmap and are using the system! The good news is we've got lots of people using the system. The not so good news is that our original system is having a hard time keeping up with all the activity. In response, we are in the process of engaging a vendor that will be able to deliver these assessments on a system that will be much more robust. We know that the current system is causing some frustration, but hope you will continue to persevere and know that a much-improved system is on the horizon. We hope it will be up and running by August 2018, if not sooner. Stay tuned!

For any FOSSmap technical questions or support, please email: