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Employing Well-Designed Assessments and Accountability Systems for Science

Posted on 2022-05-26

Employing Well-Designed Assessments and Accountability Systems for Science

Call to Action for Science Education: New Vision for Science Assessment and Accountability

 A Framework for K–12 Science Education inspired a nation of science educators and leaders to reimagine what science learning could look like and mean for students in the United States. It reminded us that when science teaching and learning are at their best, science can provide the path for all students to become confident, savvy thinkers and complex problem solvers. The Framework dispelled notions of science as unnecessary and inaccessible, instead positioning it as the lynchpin for student success.

If the Framework tells us what science learning could look like and accomplish, Call to Action for Science Education tells us how we can ensure this vision doesn’t remain one that only some students can access. In the decade since the Framework was released, we have seen tremendous, intentional commitment to changing classroom practice through instructional materials and professional learning. This makes sense: We learned important lessons from our math and English Language Arts colleagues about what happens when we focus on assessment and accountability to drive instructional shifts without dedicating resources to supporting classroom implementation. At the same time, with every teacher “aha!” moment and phenomenon-driven lesson that have emerged in science, it has become clearer that we cannot move at the pace of teachers and students if we want all students to thrive. Call to Action reminds us that (unsurprisingly) neither extreme is the right solution; instead, we need instructionally relevant assessment and accountability policies that work with a deep focus on instructional practices.

This special issue of Next Gen Navigator features four blog posts that discuss how we can build systems of assessment and accountability to advance science learning. Sonia Galaviz reminds us how assessment and accountability practices impact elementary science classrooms. Maria Simani, Nathan Inouye, Rudy Escobar, and Jill Grace describe how regional supports and statewide collaboratives can build capacity and infrastructure for more meaningful assessment and accountability systems. Noelle Gorbett describes the kinds of shifts needed in state assessment approaches to position assessment and accountability policies as student-centered and instructionally relevant, while Sandy Student reminds us of the evidence base we must continue to build if we are to create assessment and accountability systems that do more good than harm. Importantly, all of our authors recognize the potential of assessment and accountability practices for advancing science education—and the important work ahead of us to determine how to do this in ways that maintain the integrity of the instructional shifts we hope to support and incentivize.

This special issue also spotlights the invaluable contributions science assessment and accountability efforts can make to transforming educational systems as a whole. The authors raise sophisticated questions like these:

  • How do we center families and communities in assessment and accountability policies?
  • How do we move toward assessments that center equity by valuing students’ interests and identities, and their unique cultural and linguistic assets?
  • How can we design science assessment and accountability systems that monitor and provide feedback on opportunities, processes, and outcomes, incentivizing specific systemic actions that could be used to improve learning for students?
  • How do we make sure assessments tell us information worth knowing? And how do we make sure that stakeholders are ready to use that information in ways that ultimately advance student learning?

These same questions are at the heart of urgent calls to rethink the future of assessment across the country in all content areas, and our work in science can be the catalyst to better assessment and accountability systems across the board. Call to Action tells us that for science education to reach its potential, science needs to be at the education policy table. This is true, and just the beginning. For education to reach its potential, the careful work being done to build instructionally meaningful science assessment and accountability systems needs to have a role in actually building the table.

Anneesha Badrinarayan
Aneesha Badrinarayan
Next Gen Navigator Guest Editor

Aneesha Badrinarayan serves as Director of State Performance Assessment at the Learning Policy Institute (LPI), where she supports the development of instructionally relevant assessment systems at local, state, and federal levels. Before working at LPI, Badrinarayan served as Director of Special Initiatives at Achieve, where she led science assessment efforts across the nation. A neuroscientist by training, Badrinarayan found her way to science teaching, learning, and assessment through informal science education, professional learning, and education policy.

>> Providing a Comprehensive Look at Assessment in California
By Rudy Escobar; Jill Grace;  Nathan Inouye, M.Ed.Maria Chiara Simani, Ph.D.

A More Thoughtful Approach to Science Assessment
By Soñia Galaviz

>> Making Large-Scale Science Assessment Meaningful
By Sandy Student

Oregon’s Re-Humanized Assessment System
By Noelle Gorbett

Note: The Next Gen Navigator is an e-newsletter from NSTA delivering information, insights, resources, and professional learning opportunities for science educators by science educators focusing on the themes highlighted in Call to Action for Science Education and on the Next Generation Science Standards and three-dimensional instruction. Click here to sign up to receive the Navigator.

The mission of NSTA is to transform science education to benefit all through professional learning, partnerships, and advocacy.

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