This report is intended as a guide for states in making decisions about assessment to meet the NCLB requirements and in planning more broadly for assessment as a tool for supporting student learning. The committee recognizes that each state has its own goals for science education and assessment. This report, therefore, provides guidance that is specific enough to address the important issues raised by NCLB science requirements, but general enough to be adaptable to a wide range of contexts. The committee’s advice to states is offered in the form of questions that all those responsible for designing and implementing state assessment programs should ask themselves as they develop science assessments. These questions are intended to focus state decision makers on important issues that need to be addressed as assessments are developed, implemented, and used. The questions appear throughout the report and are included in their entirety in Chapter 9. They are not included in the executive summary, which instead summarizes the findings that underlie the questions.
Although the science assessments that are developed to meet NCLB requirements will constitute but a small fraction of the science assessment that is conducted in schools across the nation, they are likely to exert a powerful influence on science curricula and instruction. It is therefore very important that the effects of states’ NCLB science assessments be thoroughly explored before they are introduced and become mandatory.
High-quality science standards are central to science education and assessment. They are the way that states articulate their goals for student learning and focus the attention of teachers, students, parents, and all others concerned with education on what students should know and be able to do. Content standards serve as the basis for developing curricula, selecting textbooks, setting instructional priorities, and developing assessments. Achievement standards make clear what information will be accepted as evidence that students have achieved the standards and how competence is defined.
Content standards should be clear, detailed, and complete; reasonable in scope; rigorous and scientifically correct; and built around a conceptual framework that reflects sound models of student learning. They should also describe examples of performance expectations for students in clear and specific terms so that all concerned will know what is expected of them. The committee found that although some state standards reflect many of these criteria, no current state standards meet all of them.
States should regularly review and revise standards documents at least every 10 years. Revisions to content standards documents should be mirrored by changes in curriculum, curricular materials, assessments, and instruction. In turn, ongoing teacher professional development will be required to ensure that the changes in the standards are reflected in classrooms and schools.