results should be reported and can identify aspects of the system that will need special monitoring to ensure they are working as intended. It is through such an analysis that the state can consider the role of science assessment in the overall education system and how it will interact with the education and assessment systems in other disciplines.
A needs analysis is just as important for a system that is already operating as it is for one that is being developed. Such an analysis can reveal gaps in an existing system, for example, by identifying the need for information that is not being collected. Understanding how the assessment program is perceived and used can guide improvements in the system, highlight future needs, and help states set targets for the allocation of resources. The results of the analyses can be used to develop a continuous improvement plan for science education and assessment, a plan that should guide future modifications to the system.
States may find it useful to ask school districts and schools to conduct a parallel needs assessment. Results of these local needs assessments can yield information that state-level analyses might not uncover. Local needs assessments also can be used by school districts and schools to identify important gaps in the information that states provide to them as well as strategies for filling those gaps.
The school system of the city of Milwaukee, for example, which had a strong emphasis on developing students’ reasoning and problem-solving skills, recognized that the state testing program did not provide them with the information they needed about student achievement in this area. The school district designed and implemented its own local assessment system to supplement the state testing program—incorporating multiple measures of student achievement that included performance assessments administered in classrooms. The state assessment provided the district with both norm-referenced and criterion-referenced data that could be used for some purposes, while the local assessments provided information on higher order thinking and reasoning skills that were not being assessed by the paper-and-pencil tests used by the state (Webb, 2002).1
The committee recognizes that, in many instances, the list of needs revealed by a needs analysis will be long and states may have to set short-, intermediate-, and long-term goals for implementing the fully developed assessment systems they want. However, states that are not in a position to develop completely new assessment programs can begin with small steps toward their goals. For example, a state might start addressing needs it has identified by including a small number of open-ended assessment tasks in its large-scale assessment program, or by helping schools and districts to develop standardized, classroom-administered perfor-