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Systems for State Science Assessment
Many of the points made in this report may apply equally well to assessment in other areas. The measurement principles that have guided the committee’s thinking about science assessment could guide assessment in other domains as well. However, there are aspects of science as a discipline—the abstract nature of many of the concepts that students are expected to learn and the emphasis on scientific inquiry and investigation in many state standards, for example—that present specific challenges for assessment. Thus, to design high-quality science assessment, states will need to focus on both the general precepts of sound educational measurement and the features that are unique to science assessment. The report as a whole presents goals for states to consider in developing science assessments that meet high technical standards and are tailored to the demands of science as a discipline, but much of the discussion has a wider application.
Gathering the Evidence
The committee used many sources of information to prepare this report. We looked for evidence in the scientific and professional literature on science assessment and on science education and in policy reports on the implementation and effects of NCLB. We reviewed the body of work that has been done on science assessment by scientific disciplinary societies, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Chemical Society, the American Physics Society, and others. We examined state science standards and considered others’ evaluations of both science standards and science assessments that are currently being used in states, even though it was clear, in the context of the looming NCLB deadlines, that these things would be changing quite rapidly. We also relied on the work of earlier NRC committees that synthesized research on how people learn, what is known about the cognitive foundations of assessment, and the uses and potential of technologies for assessment. We considered at length many reports and analyses of science curricula, textbooks, and instructional approaches that have been conducted by Project 2061 (American Association for the Advancement of Science) and NSF-supported curriculum and instructional projects.
To ensure that our advice would be practical and responsive to states’ concerns, we also relied on the experience of experts who have had responsibility for testing programs in states and districts, as well as others with relevant practical experience. The committee formed and collaborated with three working groups, consisting of state assessment directors, state-level science supervisors, and science teachers. We relied heavily on their experiences and knowledge in considering the design of science assessment systems. Biographical information about the working group members appears in Appendix C.
In order to base our conclusions on a broad understanding of the possible conceptual models for the design of assessment systems, the committee asked four design teams to develop plans for science assessment systems that would