Three-dimensional assessment is new and not many people are using it yet. Nevertheless, researchers and educators have been exploring ways to measure the science learning described in the 2012 framework. They’ve come up with ideas for assessing students of different ages, for different purposes, and using many kinds of activities and resources. Each of the examples in this book uses an approach developed by researchers and educators for this purpose. For each example included in this book we identify which practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas are assessed, along with the grade level or levels targeted.1
In this chapter we begin with some examples that introduce how three-dimensional assessments work. They illustrate ways to use familiar types of science activities as assessments that successfully measure the development of active, engaged, three-dimensional science learning. The first example, “What Is Going on Inside Me?,” is from a set of biology lessons for middle school students. It illustrates one of the most important ideas we’ve talked about: namely, that assessment needs to be grounded in classroom instruction because it assesses what students have learned from a series of activities that reflect the multiple dimensions of science learning. Then we compare two assessments that measure similar material—one traditional and the other designed to assess learning as it is described in the 2012 framework—to explore the differences.
1 Most of the examples in this book appeared in the report on which it is based, Developing Assessments for the Next Generation Science Standards. The descriptions were adapted to emphasize the aspects of them that are of greatest interest to practitioners.
“What Is Going on Inside Me?” is a set of lessons about the human body designed for middle school students. Over the course of many weeks, students work through lessons that provide the building blocks they need in order to understand how the body’s systems and cellular processes work together. The lessons include many different activities: collecting, recording, and analyzing data; reviewing research; writing about their conclusions; and more. These activities introduce the students to the way scientists collect evidence and use reason to analyze it, and then test their claims about what might be happening. Through these activities students also become familiar with this science vocabulary. At certain points in these lessons the students do tasks that are specifically designed to provide evidence about what they have learned. These activities are not separate tests, but activities that make sense in the sequence of what the students are doing. They are formative assessments that give the teacher and the students insights about how learning is progressing.
Level Middle school
Assesses PRACTICES—Constructing explanations; Engaging in argument from evidence
CROSSCUTTING CONCEPTS—Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation
DISCIPLINARY CORE IDEAS—Matter and its interactions [PS1]a; From molecules to organisms: Structures and processes [LS1]
This example introduces key features of assessments that are grounded in classroom instruction and measure three-dimensional learning that develops gradually: it engages students in activities as part of an instructional unit in which they use science to demonstrate their mastery of performance objectives.
aPS1 and LS1 are codes used in the Next Generation Science Standards to refer to specific disciplinary core ideas. These codes are provided for all the examples for readers who want to explore the standards in detail; see http://www.nextgenscience.org [August 2016].
The task we’ll look at might seem like a fairly straightforward exercise in which students are asked to write about what they have learned from a series of activities. In the lesson that includes this task, students are asked to write about what they have learned from one series of activities within the unit, called “The Case of the Missing Oxygen.” The students first explore what is entering and leaving the body when they breathe and then where the oxygen goes within the body and why. The activities guide them to make and test predictions, acquire and discuss new information, carry out experiments, and track what they are discovering about respiration.
After working through these activities over numerous class periods, the students are asked to write a response to this prompt:
Solving the mystery: Inspector Bio wants to know what you have figured out about the oxygen that is missing from the air you exhale. Explain to her where the oxygen goes, what uses it, and why. Write a scientific explanation with a claim, sufficient evidence, and reasoning.
This writing task gives students the opportunity to reflect on what they have learned and how it fits together to answer a broad question about respiration and its function, using scientific reasoning. This task might seem like a fairly straightforward exercise, similar to familiar writing prompts, but it illustrates two critical new assessment goals: measuring three-dimensional science learning and measuring the development of understanding over time.
The goal of “What Is Going on Inside Me?” is not only for students to learn how humans—like other animals—get their energy from food but also for them to use evidence to explain that the release of this energy must involve a chemical reaction. As they move through the activities, students develop an explanation for how the body obtains energy and building materials from food. In doing these things, the students demonstrate three-dimensional learning.
As they work toward this explanation, students connect core ideas from several science disciplines. They draw on ideas from physics and chemistry (e.g., conservation of matter, transformation of energy, and chemical reactions) as they explore how animals convert matter into energy. The concept of how energy and matter cycle and flow is a tool for understanding the functioning of any system; thus, the students are also learning about a crosscutting concept. They also use several practices: asking questions, planning and investigating, and constructing an argument from evidence.
The writing task helps the teacher see how well students do at the three-dimensional task of pulling together ideas and practices they have learned across several lessons.
In the course of multiple lessons, the students have investigated cell growth and what cells need to survive and have identified what materials can get into and out of a cell. They have worked step-by-step to collect evidence and build an argument for the explanation that food is broken down and transported through the body to all the cells, where a chemical reaction occurs that uses oxygen and glucose to release energy for the cells to use.
As the students progress through the lessons, they begin, with the teacher’s guidance, to focus on tracking where the oxygen goes and how it is used. Using the science practice of data analysis, the students notice that increased activity in the body is associated with increased oxygen intake. As they trace the oxygen and the glucose, they begin to conclude that the food and oxygen are going to all the cells of the body and that that is where the energy is released. The teacher supports the students in figuring out that the only way the matter could be rearranged in the ways needed—and release the energy that the cells appear to be using to do their work—is through a chemical reaction.
Students will not be able to put together these arguments without understanding what they had learned earlier about energy and chemical reactions. The students have done experiments with osmosis in which they saw that both water and glucose could enter the cell. Experiments with yeast have shown them that cells could use the glucose for energy and growth and that this process releases waste in the form of carbon dioxide gas. The students have also established both that increased energy needs (such as physical activity) are associated with increased consumption of air and that exhaled air contains proportionally less oxygen than does the air in the room.
Using their data students have to work out a series of ideas that help them develop a logical explanation for what they have observed. The following ideas are hypotheses that the students develop and test:
- Something must be going on in the body that uses food, somehow gets the matter to be used in growth, and gets the energy to be used for all body functions.
- The increased mass that organisms have as they grow must come from somewhere, so it must be from the food input to the body.
- The only way for the body to get energy is to get it from somewhere else, either through transfer or conversion of energy.
- For the mass provided by the food to be used, a chemical reaction must be taking place that rearranges the substances.
- There must be a chemical reaction going on to get the stored energy in the food into a form usable by the body.
- The oxygen that is shipped around the body along with the broken-down food must be being used in a chemical reaction to convert the stored energy in the food molecules.
The students’ responses to the writing exercise show the teacher how well students have put together their ideas to form a scientific explanation. Below is a typical response from an eighth-grade student. It demonstrates that the student could apply science ideas (about energy and matter) to explain the oxygen question (National Research Council, 2014, p. 42).
After being inhaled, oxygen goes through the respiratory system, then the circulation system or blood, and goes throughout the body to all the cells. Oxygen is used to burn the food the body needs and get energy for the cells for the body to use. For anything to burn, it must have energy and oxygen. To then get the potential energy in food, the body needs oxygen, because it is a reactant. When we burned the cashew, the water above it increased, giving it thermal energy and heating it up. Therefore, food is burned with oxygen to get energy.
A guide for scoring the task is shown in Box 2-1.
The scoring rubric describes standardized examples of increasingly strong three-dimensional understanding. This student’s response shows that he or she has made partial progress toward the performance expectations in the unit. This response shows that the student understands that the food contains potential energy but cannot elaborate on how the chemical reaction converts the energy to a form cells can use. The response provides evidence that the student drew on what he or she learned from the activities in thinking through the way oxygen is used by the body.
The assessment task—like the instruction of which it is a part—seamlessly blends the three dimensions of science learning.
The task measures what students have come to understand through multiple activities, and it helps the teacher make sure that the students have the foundation they need to build on that learning later.
The assessment is a natural part of the unit. Students may not necessarily think of the writing exercise as an assessment because the task is one they recognize as an important activity they do frequently to help them integrate their thinking about a phenomenon.
The scoring rubric helps the teacher understand specifically where the students need more support or instruction.
The standardized scoring rubric could be used to compare the understanding of students beyond a single classroom or school.
The next two assessment activities were chosen to highlight some of the differences between familiar assessment approaches and strategies that match the new vision of science learning. Both are assessments of similar material for upper elementary school students.
First, let’s look at a set of activities called “How Do Plants and Animals Depend on Each Other?” from a popular textbook for fourth-grade students (see Figure 2-1). The students create a terrarium, make observations about the organisms, and record measurements of their size at the start and 1 week later. The activities on the second page can be used to assess students’ understanding of how the organisms depend on one another—the text in blue shows the expected accurate responses.
Now compare this to the following set of activities designed to work together to assess fifth-graders’ learning about biodiversity. This one was designed to capture the kind of learning described in the 2012 framework.
Level Grade 5
Assesses PRACTICES—Planning and carrying out investigations; Analyzing and interpreting data; Constructing explanations
DISCIPLINARY CORE IDEAS—Biological evolution: Unity and diversity [LS4]
This example highlights key differences between a traditional assessment and one that can measure three-dimensional learning that develops over time. Not only does this activity engage students in doing science, it also uses a task in different ways—to teach and to assess.
“Biodiversity in the Schoolyard” is a set of four activities that are part of an extended unit in the same way the task we examined in “What Is Going on Inside Me?” was. In this unit, the students collect and analyze data about the various species living in the yard of their school. All of the activities they do are natural parts of the instructional sequence in the unit, but some are also designed to help the teacher see the students’ progress. We will look at four activities that use multiple assessment strategies to collect different sorts of information about students’ learning. These activities are three-dimensional. They focus on core disciplinary ideas associated with biodiversity: one, that it describes the variety of species found in Earth’s terrestrial and oceanic systems, and two, that the completeness and integrity of an ecosystem’s biodiversity is often used as a measure of its health. The crosscutting concept of patterns comes up as students explore these ideas using the practices of conducting an investigation, interpreting the data they collect, and developing explanations for what they have observed.
The following three assessment tasks are parts of an investigation the students carry out.
Task 1: Students work in teams to collect data on the number of animals (abundance) and the number of different species (richness) they find in each of three zones within their schoolyard.
Instructions: Once you have formed your team, your teacher will assign your team to a zone in the schoolyard. Your job is to go outside and spend approximately 40 minutes observing and recording all of the animals and signs of animals that you see in your schoolyard zone during that time. Use the BioKIDS application on your iPod to collect and record all your data and observations.
In this example, students use an iPod to record the information they collect, but they could also use paper and clipboards to do the same thing. The data from each iPod are uploaded and combined into a spreadsheet that contains all the students’ data, but the teacher and students could create the spreadsheet themselves. (A sample electronic spreadsheet is shown in Figure 2-2.) The teacher reviews the data to see how well the students collected and recorded the data, which they will need for the other tasks. The teacher can use the Internet interface to look at each group’s data and also to look across data for all the students in the class.
Task 2: Students create bar graphs that illustrate patterns in the data showing abundance and richness of species for each of the schoolyard zones.
In the second task, students construct graphs of the data they have collected and then develop interpretations of what the data show. The exact instructions for Task 2 are shown in Figure 2-3. Teachers use the graphs the students create in deciding what further instruction students may need. For example, if students are having trouble drawing accurate bars or labeling the axes appropriately, a teacher can stop and focus instruction on those skills. The teachers also explain new vocabulary and concepts as needed. If the students are not showing a secure understanding of the core ideas—about species abundance or species richness—a teacher might review those before the students proceed.
Task 3: Students are asked to construct an explanation to support their answer to the question “Which zone of the schoolyard has the greatest biodiversity?”
This task functions as a learning exercise and a chance for the teacher to see how well students do at using their investigation and the data from the graphs they have developed as evidence to support their explanations. Before they start this task, the students will already have completed a separate activity (not an assessment) that helped them understand this definition of biodiversity: “An area is considered biodiverse if it has both a high animal abundance and high species richness.”
As they start to work on developing their explanations, the students are also given hints that there are three key parts of an explanation: a claim, more than one piece of evidence, and reasoning. The students are also given the definitions of relevant terms. This task allows the teacher to see how well students have understood the concept and can support their ideas about it using the practices of data analysis and explanation. It also gives students a chance to develop their own understanding through hints and some definitions that are tools they can use to construct their explanations. The students also gain practice pulling their ideas together into a scientific explanation with the three needed elements. Instructions for Task 3 and sample student answers are shown in Box 2-2.
The first three tasks are designed so they can function as learning activities while also providing the teacher with formative information she can use to shape instruction. The last task is designed to be given at the end of the entire unit to assess the students’ understanding of the learning objectives regarding biodiversity and their capacity to reason scientifically about what they have learned. Results from Task 4 can be used in summative ways—as part of the students’ recorded grades, for example.
Task 4: Students are again asked to construct an explanation to support an answer to the question about which zone of the schoolyard has the greatest biodiversity, but this time without the supports the teacher provided the first time.
The teacher presents the students with excerpts from a class data collection summary (shown in Table 2-1) and asks them to construct an explanation, as they did in Task 3. Although this task is much the same as Task 3, it now is being used for a summative purpose. The difference between the two is that in Task 4, the hints are not given: at the end of the unit, the students are expected to show without assistance that they understand what constitutes a full explanation. The task and coding rubric used for Task 4 are shown in Box 2-3.
TABLE 2-1 School Yard Animal Data
|Animal Name||Zone A||Zone B||Zone C||Total|
SOURCE: National Research Council (2014, p. 110).
We compare these two examples—the traditional and the three-dimensional one—not to suggest that the one in the textbook is of poor quality but to show different ways of working with similar material.
The “Biodiversity in the Schoolyard” assessment tasks are each three-dimensional: they are designed to engage students in a way that blends science practices with the crosscutting concepts and core ideas the unit is about. For example, the first task is structured to encourage the students to begin thinking about patterns in what they are finding as they collect their data—patterns is a crosscutting concept. The Internet interface reinforces ideas the class has discussed by guiding the students to think about how to structure the way they record their data (by zone of the schoolyard) and then in how to begin analyzing it (by creating bar graphs). These are elements of Practice 3: planning and carrying out investigations. As the students investigate the species in their schoolyard, they link what they are finding to the disciplinary core ideas their teacher has been introducing, about the richness and abundance of different species.
The Internet interface offers suggestions that help the students succeed. It also gives their teachers clear images of the understanding their students can demonstrate, as well as insights into where they fall short. The final task gives the students the opportunity to demonstrate different sorts of understanding they have developed in the course of the unit.
In contrast, the tasks in the textbook assessment (see Figure 2-1) each address something important, but they were not designed to address three-dimensional learning that develops over time. In Step 3, for example, the students are asked to observe how the organisms depend on each other. The expected answer—that the plants provide oxygen and the newt provides carbon dioxide—is not something the students could observe by measuring the organisms, though this is the only activity they are directed to do. Rather, it is information that was presumably supplied to them during classroom instruction or in the textbook, which they are expected to remember.
Step 6 is presented as an opportunity to draw inferences, but what the students are actually asked to do is label the living and nonliving things in the terrarium. In the “explore more” section, the students are asked to consider how an animal might use plants for food and shelter and how they might test their ideas about this. But the expected answer—that students might observe a new animal—does not engage them in thinking about how to frame a testable hypothesis or think of a way they might collect evidence to test it.
The students have 1 week to observe the terrarium and measure the organisms. They are asked to record their measurements and then to draw a diagram to show how the organisms depend on one another. However, the activity does not address what the records of the organisms’ growth would reveal about how
they depend on one another. Completing this set of tasks would not give students the opportunity to demonstrate an understanding of how an ecosystem functions, how to use science practices to investigate a question, how to use their observations as data for their explanations, or how to synthesize what they learned from their observations.
The examples in this chapter and those that follow in subsequent chapters demonstrate a variety of approaches, but they share some common attributes. All of them require students to use science and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts while demonstrating their understanding of aspects of a disciplinary core idea. Each of them also includes multiple components: students do activities, work independently on some tasks, collaborate with their classmates, discuss their thinking, and more. In each case, the assessment gives teachers information about students’ thinking and their developing understanding. But, the time students spend doing these activities is a natural part of instruction; these are not isolated assessments.
These examples illustrate some of the most important ideas that will help you adapt your own assessments:
You can use tasks with multiple components that work together to assess practices in the context of crosscutting concepts and core ideas. The tasks in “What Is Going on Inside Me?” and “Biodiversity in the Schoolyard” don’t just tell you that students know key facts about the body’s use of energy or biodiversity, that they can define key terms, or that they know how to create bar graphs or carry out other science practices. Instead, they show that students have engaged with the concepts, with how scientists would investigate them, and with the scientific knowledge that can help them make sense of what they observe. They have used the relevant skills for themselves to answer questions the way a scientist would. The tasks were designed to guide the students to take the multiple steps required to solve the problem.
Students engaged in active science learning do a lot of different things in the context of learning about crosscutting concepts and core ideas. New science assessments must provide information about performance expectations that describe three-dimensional learning.
It takes not only many testing sessions but also different types of tasks to capture this. In the course of the biodiversity activities, the students are outdoors observing, conferring with their classmates, entering data on an electronic device, analyzing their data, and thinking and talking about what it all means. These are things scientists do in carrying out an investigation. No single task could capture this set of interrelated tasks. Often it will make sense to have multiple tasks associated with one basic challenge, like figuring out what’s going on when a body digests food.
You can use multiple assessment opportunities to collect evidence about your students’ learning of complex ideas. None of these tasks by itself could provide such a detailed picture of what the students have learned. It takes time for students to demonstrate all they know and can do. They will need many—and varied—assessment opportunities over time to show what they have mastered. The writing exercise in “What Is Going on Inside Me?” only makes sense in the context of the complex activities that lead up to it, some of which can also be assessment opportunities. Similarly, the practices and the thinking that students do in the “Schoolyard” example cannot be completed in a single session. Students who successfully complete this set of four activities have shown that they can carry out an investigation and, in doing so, have learned some concepts about ecosystems and biodiversity.
Assessments can capture students’ progress. Teachers—and others—are most interested in how students are progressing over time, not what they understood on a particular day. A teacher might want to know whether students grasped a concept in the course of a lesson or a unit, or if they figured out how graphing their data will help them see patterns. You know these things take time, and you want to see how students have moved forward from where they started during the course of a lesson, a unit, or a year.
The “Schoolyard” example shows how a teacher moves students gradually from learning how a task is done to demonstrating that they have mastered it. Tasks 3 and 4 target the same goal, but they have different assessment purposes. Task 3 is given midway through the biodiversity unit to provide the teacher with a sense of how far along students are and what they need to work on—as well as to give them some practice in the sort of thinking she wants them to learn. In Task 4 the students are given the opportunity to show that they have progressed in their capacity to reason and use evidence to support their thinking.
The same idea applies to thinking about what students learn in the course of a year, or across years. When assessments are designed to work together and are organized around a thoughtful description of the stages students will work through, their results will fit together to provide a rich picture of students’ learning over time.
- Assessment is an integral part of the learning experience, which would be incomplete without it. These examples show how assessments can be embedded in instruction to measure the development of three-dimensional learning over time.
- These examples are activities that would make sense for the students to do even if they were not designed to collect specific information about students’ developing understanding.
- These examples show different types of tasks can be used for different types of assessment and instructional purposes.
- Assessments like these are not necessarily identified for the students as tests, and they occur at a point in instruction when the teacher needs information.