Not only is Washington DC one of the frontrunners in adopting the Next Generation Science Standards and transitioning the American science curriculum to one more based on practical applications of science and engineering. It will also be the first to adopt a new statewide assessment based on those standards.
The first operational NGSS testing window takes place between May and June of 2016, and will test grades 5 and 8 as well as students taking high school biology. The field test design specifies two separate tests at each level, each taking about an hour. The tests will occur online using the TestNav8 platform, which is the same one that PARCC uses.
These tests do not represent the final form of next generation-aligned exams, but rather an intermediary step while DC public schools gather information and fine-tunes the testing process. The goal is to ensure that each test is aligned to the standards and successfully reflecting students’ actual knowledge.
As the Office of the State Superintendent of Education explains, “The spring 2016 operational test will continue to reflect the District’s transition to NGSS. The assessment will combine technology-enhanced NGSS-based items with science item formats used previously in district-wide assessments. As the new DC Science Assessment continues to develop, field-test items will be incorporated to ensure questions used in future tests are fair for all students, high quality, and comply with the rigor of NGSS. “
In order to do so, effective tests must include ways to measure all three dimensions of the new next generation science and engineering frameworks.
The District of Columbia adopted the NGSS standards back in 2013, based on recommendations from the National Research Council’s Framework for K–12 Science Education, which describes an approach to science, engineering and technology that will help better prepare American students to compete in a global workforce that supports innovation. The new science framework will “capture students' interest and provide them with the necessary foundational knowledge in the field,” helping them develop the skills to perform successfully in a range of fields.
The new framework breaks necessary scientific knowledge down into three basic dimensions. Disciplinary Core Ideas describe key concepts in four different domains: physical sciences; life sciences; earth and space sciences; and engineering, technology and applications of science. Crosscutting Concepts are methods of linking various domains of science using systems phenomena and include concepts such as patterns, cause and effect, energy and matter, structure and function, and so on.
Science and Engineering Practices are actual skills that students must possess in order to successfully engage in developing and using STEM content, and include abilities like developing and using models, arguing from evidence, analyzing and interpreting data, and other skills that scientists and engineers use every day to answer questions and solve problems.
Since the adoption of these new standards, DC educators have been working hard to integrate a next generation approach to science into curriculum, but the results of any NGSS integration has yet to be measured hence the need for a test aligned to the Washington DC Science Standards.
While Washington is not the only state striving to incorporate these standards into testing – Illinois is another frontrunner currently making strides toward developing tests that adhere to Next Generation Science Standards – it is still a fairly new endeavor. The goal of developing a single set of science standards for an entire nation, in ways analogous to the Common Core Math and ELA standards, has not yet been realized. Nevertheless, developing tests that will determine whether or not classroom instruction is rising students to meet these standards in the states that have adopted them is a major step forward.
If you would like to see what a next generation-aligned science curriculum for DC looks like, you can check out some of our sample resources here. These curriculum examples are not only aligned to NGSS but follow EQuIP and PEEC guidelines for NGSS high quality aligned science curriculum, and strive to provide a cutting-edge approach to support those teaching science and engineering that will help prepare students for their future college and career choices.