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The Assessment Corner: What's New in Assessment for the Next Generation Edition?

Kathy Long, FOSS Assessment Coordinator, Lawrence Hall of Science
September 24, 2015 | Assessment

As many of you know, assessment for the FOSS program has been evolving since the 1990s. The current system has its foundation in the Assessing Science Knowledge (ASK) project (2003–2009) funded by the National Science Foundation and Delta Education. That project involved nine school districts as well as experts from the Berkeley Evaluation and Assessment Research Center and SRI International, working closely with the FOSS development team. I-Checks, as well as the embedded reflective assessment practice, have their roots in that project. (Reflective assessment was developed in conjunction with another NSF-funded project called Formative Assessment in Science Through Technology. We were attempting to do with PalmPilots what we could do these days with iPads; we were ahead of our time!)

The system developed in ASK was originally developed to supplement FOSS Second Edition. It has since evolved to be an integral part of both the Third Edition and the Next Generation Edition. So what's new in the Next Generation Edition?

Performance Expectation Grade-Level Chart

The Next Generation Edition assessment chapter for each module includes a two-page chart aligning the grade-level performance expectations with FOSS assessments. On that chart you will find references to all of the embedded and benchmark assessments that include items to develop students' abilities to answer questions that will most likely appear on future state and district tests.

Performance Assessments

In each module, you will find two to four parts of investigations that are designated as performance assessments. FOSS students work and think like scientists in every lesson, but these specific parts will guide you to assess progress of specific science and engineering practices and how students are thinking about crosscutting concepts. There are no additional stations that need to be set up (as there were in the Second Edition)—these are authentic assessments in which students make observations, conduct investigations, gather and analyze data, think about systems or cause and effect—all with a purpose that is part of the ongoing learning.

Benchmark Item Descriptions

Next Generation items on benchmark assessments are described in three dimensions. The purpose of this description is to show how each item fits into the scheme of three-dimensional learning (most, but not all include the three dimensions), and as a support for teachers to provide information about how the item is connected to the investigations in the module. When you look at the assessments, you won't notice a big difference in the item format. We still have multiple-choice, short-answer, and open-response questions. Each item still has one coding guide, so we are coding the items as a blend of the three dimensions rather than trying to pull the dimensions apart to assess them separately. We believe this follows the spirit of the National Research Council's A Framework for K–12 Science Education and the Next Generation Science Standards. Taken together, all of the items should give you a diagnostic snapshot of what students know and what they need help with. Achieve has made clear many times that NGSS Performance Expectations are not meant to be a complete curriculum. And the assessment system for FOSS is not meant to be a mini-version of the state tests that will be developed from the Performance Expectations. The assessments that accompany FOSS remain closely related to the curriculum and include items that require students to apply what they have learned directly in the FOSS classroom. The FOSS curriculum and assessment system include all the experiences students need to be successful on new state tests (assuming those tests remain true to the Framework and NGSS).

Next-Step Strategies

A new feature in the Assessment chapter that teachers will find helpful is suggestions for next-step strategies, found in the sidebars next to each item coding guide. These are suggestions to use with individual students or when a large number of students have difficulty with any of the items on the I-Checks.

The FOSS assessment system puts a heavy emphasis on formative assessment. The next-step strategies provide an opportunity for teachers and students to take action when assessments show that action is needed to improve learning. The next-step strategies help establish an academic dialogue between teachers and students, or encourage students to work with their peers to think again about what they have learned and what they still need to know. These interactive activities provide another opportunity for students to use their science and engineering practices when they debate and defend their answers, evaluate and obtain new information that might help them make connections among the pieces of knowledge they already have, and examine and reconstruct explanations.

Next-step strategies include self- and peer-assessment activities, articles in the FOSS Science Resources book that might be helpful to review, as well as tutorials, virtual investigations, and other online activities that can enhance student understanding (available through FOSSweb). We make these suggestions as a place for teachers to start from. Which next-step strategy a teacher uses depends on teacher preference and student need. Once teachers try a few of our published next steps, we know they will enjoy creating their own!

Next-step strategies are not suggested for items on the Survey/Posttest as the Survey is given to provide information about students' prior knowledge and help teachers make decisions about where they will need to spend more time when teaching the curriculum. The Posttest is a summative test given at the end of the module.

FOSSmap is also available for the Next Generation Edition (see FOSS Newsletter, Spring 2014). In Fall 2015, students will be able to take the items online, and you will be able to score open response items and run any of the frequency reports (code frequency, class by item, student by item, student responses), but those reports that require statistical analysis to provide level information will be coming later (class frequency, class by level, and assessment summary reports for individual students). Those require us to gather some additional data to make sure that they are working properly. We will put them online as we complete that work behind the scenes.

We've put a lot of thought into the latest version of the FOSS assessment system for the FOSS Next Generation Edition. We hope you will find it informative and easy to use! If you'd like to receive a sample section from a fourth-grade Assessment chapter, please send an email to