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Systems for State Science Assessment
NCLB REQUIREMENTS FOR SCIENCE
NCLB requires that all states must have challenging academic content and achievement standards for science in place by 2005–2006. They must begin measuring student attainment of those standards in 2007–2008 with assessments that are fully aligned with the standards and that meet accepted professional standards for technical quality for each purpose for which they will be used. The law further specifies that states’ assessment systems must include multiple up-to-date measures of student achievement, including measures that assess higher order thinking skills and understanding of challenging content. Science assessments are to be administered annually to all students, including those with disabilities and those who are not fluent in English, at least once in each of three grade bands, 3–5, 6–9, and 10–12. At present, they need not be included in the calculation of adequate yearly progress that is used to monitor states’ progress toward NCLB goals. States are required to make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and limited English proficiency to allow them to participate in the assessments, and they must have in place alternate assessments for students who cannot participate in the regular assessment even with accommodations.
In recognition of the decentralized nature of public education governance in the United States, as well as of the differences in states’ circumstances and priorities, the legislation allows some flexibility in meeting the law’s requirements. States may choose to include in their assessment systems either criterion-referenced assessments, augmented norm-referenced assessments, or both (assessments that support only norm-referenced interpretations are not acceptable).2 Assessment systems, which can take many forms under NCLB, may be comprised of a uniform set of assessments statewide or a combination of state and local assessments. However, regardless of the form that the assessment system takes, the results must be reported publicly and be expressed in terms of the state’s academic achievement standards. The results must be reported in the aggregate for the full group of test takers and be disaggregated for specified population groups and provide information that is descriptive, interpretive,3 and diagnostic at the individual level. Box 1-1 includes excerpts from the assessment provisions of NCLB as they relate to science; they are referenced throughout this report.
Although NCLB requires states and districts that receive Title I funds to participate in the biennial state-level assessments in reading and mathematics conducted under the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), no such requirement for science is in place as this report goes to press. Thus, partici-
Criterion-referenced tests are those that report student performance in terms of a defined body of skills and knowledge, while norm-referenced tests are those that report performance in terms of comparisons with the performance of groups of similar students. Both are discussed further in Chapter 5.
Interpretive results provide guidance on what the results mean.