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Systems for State Science Assessment
gies, or students’ efforts or abilities, or whether they simply indicate that students have not been given a chance to learn what is being assessed or that the assessments are somehow not tapping into what they know in appropriate ways.
NCLB requires that all students, including students with disabilities and English language learners, participate in state accountability programs, and states are required to provide appropriate accommodations to these students. However, the effects of accommodations on test performance and on the inferences that can be made from test results are not well understood. As states make decisions about how to assess students’ science literacy, they will need to consider the needs of English language learners and students with special needs and the challenges of devising technically sound accommodations for them. They will also need to consider the extent to which students with disabilities and English language learners have had an opportunity to learn the material covered by an assessment. These issues are particularly salient for states that make use of innovative assessment methods, for which there is little research about the effects of accommodations.
The allocation of time and money is an element in virtually every decision that education officials make. The assessment of science learning has resource implications for states and schools that could far outstrip the actual costs of the assessments themselves. New assessments may reveal inadequacies in the existing science education program in a state, as well as inequities in science education across schools and school districts. Such findings may trigger legal requirements to address inequities. As a state raises the stakes, the demand for high-quality science education may also increase. Financial incentives may be needed to encourage qualified science teachers to enter teaching or to remain in schools that serve disadvantaged students. Assessments also can reveal exemplary practices that contribute significantly to increased student learning: resources should be set aside to disseminate and implement these practices.
Monitoring and Evaluation
For an assessment system to achieve its goals, those responsible for it need to continuously monitor and periodically evaluate its effectiveness. NCLB holds states, districts, and schools accountable for student performance; it is equally important that they be held accountable for the quality, utility, and consequences of their assessment systems. States and districts should have a detailed plan for evaluating how well the assessment system is working, whether it is accomplishing its goals, and whether there are unanticipated effects. At the same time, states