States are in varying stages of developing their NCLB science assessments. Typically, states contract with assessment companies which have a history of producing standardized, norm referenced tests, e.g., the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), the Tera Nova, the Stanford Achievement Test (SAT-9, SAT-10).
These new NCLB science tests must include either criterion-referenced assessments or augmented norm-referenced assessments, or both. The world of the standardized, multiple-choice, norm referenced test is disappearing as standards-aligned, criterion-referenced tests emerge.
Because many states’ science standards include science inquiry and science process skills that are difficult to assess with conventional multiple-choice questions, more and more science assessments are taking on a different format and look. To assess a student’s skills, students must “perform.”
Hands-on performance assessment is moving us “beyond the bubble” of Scantron forms. When students are asked to perform, they are better able to utilize their unique learning styles (kinesthetic, visual, aural, etc.) as they tap into their own content knowledge of science. Student work from hands-on performance assessments better informs the teacher (and student) of what the student understands versus what bubble he may have guessed to be right.
Hands-on performance assessment in science requires students to perform various science skills (observation, data collection, organizing data, data analysis, drawing conclusions, etc.) as they manipulate equipment. Science equipment, typically organized in classroom sets, is delivered as science kits.
As the need for criterion-referenced science assessment of inquiry skills takes hold, the demand for science kits will continue to increase. States, districts, and schools are realizing that to assess science inquiry adequately, kits are a necessary, essential part of the assessment program. Educators also realize that if they are to meet the NCLB requirements for science assessment, i.e., to use up-to-date measures to assess mastery of science standards, and the states’ science content standards include science inquiry, then the tests themselves need to include student hands-on performance tasks. And since “what gets tested gets taught,” we will see an increasing number of science inquiry learning activities in classroom curriculum throughout the school year.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) program has been using science kits (HOTs) as part of its science program since the 1990’s. These science tests are administered every four years to a small sample of students across the nation. Although this national assessment program advocates the use of performance assessment requiring hands-on manipulation of science equipment, it is limited in scope. The more powerful influences that are changing science assessment nationally stem from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
In a recent report, NAEP discusses the value of hands-on tasks.
Science education is not just about learning facts in a classroom – it’s about doing activities where students put their understanding of science principles into action. Tasks were designed to assess how well students can perform scientific investigations, draw valid conclusions, and explain their results. In 2009, in addition to the paper-and-pencil questions, fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-graders also completed a new generation of hands-on tasks during which students worked with lab materials and other equipment to perform experiments. These tasks help us understand not only what students know, but how well they are able to reason through complex problems and apply science to real-life situations. While performing the…, hands-on tasks, students manipulate objects and perform actual experiments, offering us richer data on how students respond to scientific challenges.1
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are written as performance expectations that are composed of all three components of the Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas.2 Core ideas, practices, and crosscutting concepts are elements of each performance expectation. These expectations are written to address one goal of the Framework, i.e., a more seamless blending of practices with core ideas and crosscutting concepts. Hands-on performance assessment tasks can be used to effectively assess science practices and core ideas simultaneously.
1The Nation’s Report Card: Science in Action: Hands-On and Interactive Computer Tasks From the 2009 Science Assessment (NCES 2012-468).
2A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas, National Research Council, 2012.