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NRC to Develop Framework for New Science Assessments

With a first draft of common science standards expected out soon, the National Research Council is gearing up to help states figure out the best way to assess the scientific knowledge and skills to be expected of students.

A panel of experts in science, science education, and assessment will develop a report over the next year that provides a conceptual framework for the K-12 assessments and makes recommendations on the steps needed to develop valid, reliable, and fair assessments pegged to the standards.

"This is at the very early stages," said Martin Storksdieck, the director of the NRC's Board on Science Education, which is jointly spearheading the effort with the council's Board on Testing and Assessment. "We're not providing assessments per se. ... We're creating a broad intellectual framework."

Storksdieck told me that the members of the panel will be announced within about a month. And the goal is to have the report completed by the spring or early summer of 2013.

The work from the congressionally chartered NRC is being supported by about $1 million in grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the S.D. Bechtel, Jr., Foundation. (Disclaimer: Both the Carnegie and Hewlett foundations also provide financial support for Education Week's news coverage.)

If this idea of an NRC framework for science education sounds familiar to any readers, that's probably because last summer the council issued such a framework to guide the development of the "next generation" science standards themselves. The actual writing of those standards is being led by 26 states working in collaboration with Achieve—a Washington-based nonprofit group that also helped with the development of the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English/language arts—and a variety of experts in science education.

Top priorities in developing the forthcoming standards include promoting a greater emphasis on depth over breadth in understanding science and getting young people to continually engage in the practices of both scientific inquiry and engineering design as part of the learning process. Another goal is to promote greater coherence in the teaching of science as students progress through school, with the core scientific concepts revisited at multiple grade levels to build on prior learning and help facilitate a deeper understanding.

With the standards still being developed, the NRC's standards framework will no doubt prove a key guide for the assessment document produced.

Storksdieck said a key goal is to promote more "authentic" assessments that are able to measure not simply knowledge but also students' ability to apply that learning through the scientific practices identified. The panel will seek out and examine existing assessments that may serve as models. In addition, he said the NRC will be mindful of what is feasible given constraints on time and funding.

Indeed, he suggested that one issue that will "loom large is the role of technology and computer-based assessments."

The NRC panel, he said, will "really think through what a more dynamic assessment delivery system can do to create more authentic ways for assessment."

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