The report begins with a discussion of the nature of an assessment system. This is followed by a discussion of the goals for science literacy and the insights provided by research on learning that shed light on how students’ understanding of important science concepts can be assessed. Subsequent chapters address the nature and structure of science standards and the design of assessments that reflect the foundations that have guided the committee. The report continues with an examination of strategies for building, operating, and supporting an assessment system and with discussions of issues related to fairness and adequacy. Chapter 8 covers monitoring and evaluation of the system to ensure that it is functioning as intended. The report closes with a discussion of the ways in which the federal government, agencies that fund research, researchers, and others can assist states in their efforts to improve science assessment.
Three appendixes complete the report. Appendix A is a set of practical tips that came from our discussions with participants in the state assessment process. Appendix B is a list of the background papers and design teams that provided valuable information to aid the committee in its work. Appendix C contains biographical sketches of the committee, staff, and working group members.
A major goal for this study was that the committee’s report be practical and be presented in such a way that individual elements can easily be considered and implemented by states. The report is also intended to be useful to states that are at different stages in designing and modifying their science assessment programs. Some states, for example, may already have developed high-quality science standards that meet the criteria laid out in Chapter 4, but they may find in other chapters suggestions for improvements they have not considered. Moreover, most states are not in a position to rethink completely the ways in which they assess students in science, but are more likely to view the process of change and improvement as ongoing. While the report underscores the importance of considering the assessment system as a whole, states might begin by targeting their areas of greatest need and using some of the ideas contained in the report to do so.
For each of the major topics addressed, the committee presents a set of questions that states can use to review elements of their systems for science education and assessment and consider aspects they may want to change. The committee’s overarching recommendation to states is that they think carefully about the issues raised by these questions and consider the extent to which their assessment system attends to them.