Assessment Insights

Test Items that Yield Rich Data: Part 2 of 3

[fa icon="calendar"] June, 2018 / by Press Room

Press Room

How the NGSS Transform Science Instruction and Assessment

We recently published a white paper titled “Assessing Today’s Standards: Multi-dimensional test items,” that describes our approach to the challenges and opportunities presented by new, rigorous standards in ELA, math, and science. We’ve reconsidered item development to address both the multi-dimensionality of the standards and the needs of many stakeholders and decision makers for meaningful, timely assessment information.

Our science team, led by our NGSS solution leader Karen Whisler, has been working with many of our state clients—including Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Maryland—to develop and implement new science assessments aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS*) and to similar new science standards. Whisler and her colleagues have been involved in the NGSS since the first drafts were available for review. In fact, the Measured Progress science team contributed sample assessment items for Roger Bybee’s groundbreaking book, Translating the NGSS for Classroom Instruction.

The Measured Progress approach for science

The-Future-of-Science-Assessment-ThumbIn a new video, The Future of Science Assessment, Whisler explains that the standards describe knowledge in use—not memorized, disconnected facts and data. Science instruction has to change to reflect this vision of the standards; ideally, assessment needs to feel like an extension of classroom experience. So Whisler and her team asked: How can we represent that experience to the greatest extent possible in summative assessment?

As a famous traveler once said, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” The focus on assessing knowledge in use opens up a whole new landscape. In the classroom, students actively explore a phenomenon or solve a scientific problem. So the Measured Progress science team focuses on phenomena, and on storylines for making sense of those phenomena. We primarily use a “cluster” model, in which students receive a stimulus that presents the phenomena and associated data and sets up a storyline. Then a number of items build off that stimulus, asking students to move from gathering information, to reasoning, and to making sense of the phenomenon.

A good stimulus engages students effectively and underpins all the items in the cluster. The selected phenomenon or problem has to fit the Performance Expectations (PEs) outlined in the standards, of course. To engage students, the stimulus also needs to be real, relevant, and grade-appropriate.

Take a look

Here is a stimulus for grade 5 that addresses the topic Space Systems: Stars and the Solar System


This stimulus presents a phenomenon that many elementary students experience when they play outside—the changing appearance of shadows. The cluster, which you can see in the video, contains three item types:

  • technology-enhanced,
  • conventional selected-response, and
  • evidence-based selected-response, in which students select an answer in the first part, and then explain or support that answer in the second part.

In keeping with the intent of the standards, every item addresses at least two dimensions of the assessed PE. Some items include all three dimensions: the Disciplinary Core Idea, the Science and Engineering Practice, and the Crosscutting Concept. The video shows all the items in the cluster, and explains how they assess the performance expectation and its dimensions.

Science solutions for states

It’s a big task to develop complex, multi-dimensional stimuli and cluster items that address the intent of the NGSS standards. You don’t need a good witch and magic shoes to achieve the goal, but it does require intensive, thoughtful work and input from experienced professionals. So another question that Whisler and her team have been asking is: How can we make high-quality, multi-dimensional science test content available to a state, tailored to its needs, and at reasonable cost? Our answer to that one is our Science Secure Item Bank.

We’re building a portfolio of items and clusters aligned to the NGSS (and to similar Framework-based standards) that can serve as the foundation of a state’s summative assessment. As states sign on to participate in the item bank, development will expand, and every state or district that participates will realize benefits in cost and range of choice. Measured Progress will help each state’s assessment team design a program tailored to meet that state’s goals, without having to build an assessment from scratch.

With the Science Secure Item Bank, states will have access to industry-leading science assessment content. They’ll design and implement meaningful science assessments and bypass some of the hurdles presented by a completely customized program.

The right direction

Of course, the history of instruction and assessment has included many changes to standards. But for Whisler and her team, the NGSS aren’t just the next set of standards they have to adopt. They’re a huge step in the right direction for today’s students. “What’s important today is having the skills and abilities to study our world and connect knowledge, in order to explain myriad phenomena and solve problems,” says Whisler. “These are the enduring things that we need in order to move forward as a society.”

Hear more from Whisler and learn about 3-dimensional science assessment from Measured Progress in the video, The Future of Science Assessment. If you’d like to participate in discussions about ongoing development for NGSS assessment, contact us.

Download the white paper “Assessing Today’s Standards: Multi-dimensional test items “to read about ELA, math, and science assessment content and see sample items.

Learn more about assessing the NGSS in Karen’s session at NCSA 2018, “Examining Approaches to Defining Cognitive Complexity for NGSS Standards and Assessment.”

*NGSS is a registered trademark of Achieve. Neither Achieve nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards were involved in the production of this product, and do not endorse it.


Topics: NGSS, Accountability, College and Career Readiness, Connecting Teaching and Learning

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Our Press Room chooses topics of interest from activities around the company, to provide a closer look at ways to improve learning and instruction, and to help demystify assessment issues.