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Systems for State Science Assessment
narrative and numerical records, to manipulate equipment, to visually discern subtle changes, and perhaps to collaborate with other students. These are examples of tasks that may pose a particular challenge for some students, and task developers and educators face a challenge in determining which are integral to the construct, and how students with disabilities or English language learners might be accommodated.
NCLB will focus increased attention on science education in the United States. Indeed, the incremental increase in attention paid to science education is likely to exceed the increase associated with reading and mathematics when annual testing in these subjects became mandatory. While reading and mathematics have been routinely assessed by states for a number of years—decades, in some states—NCLB marks a significantly increased focus on measuring and reporting on science achievement.
The central goal of the assessment component of NCLB is to highlight the areas in which students are not performing at a sufficiently high level and to focus attention on the schools and subjects in which performance targets are not being met. The revelations about inadequacies in science education that are likely to result will have a variety of important implications for schools and states. For example, the increased scrutiny of science education in a state may alter the labor market for teachers, potentially changing the ability of school districts to meet the requirement of NCLB for highly qualified teachers.
The measurement and reporting of science proficiency is likely to lead to an increased focus on science instruction. This reporting also will help to reveal the degree to which schools have supported science education in the past. Numerous authors, including Figlio and Rouse (2004) and Jacob (2003), have indicated that schools tend to focus more attention on the subjects in which performance is measured, particularly when high stakes are attached to results. Therefore, the inclusion of science in an assessment system (and possibly in an accountability system) could lead to a relative increase in the instructional time and staffing devoted to science. This response may be particularly great in schools serving underserved populations, because these schools are the most likely to focus their attention on the high-stakes subjects.
Highlighting Existing Equity and Adequacy Issues
A widespread finding of low science proficiency could indicate that students in a state have not received an adequate level of instruction in science. Such a revelation could have important implications for school finance, as 21 state constitutions have explicit language requiring that states provide for “adequate” levels of school funding. Adequacy standards define a target level of achievement in