KnowAtom's Blog

The Connection Between Phenomena & Standardized Testing

Posted by Francis Vigeant on Mar 29, 2017

Let’s talk briefly about next generation state-level assessment and how it should impact your use of phenomena and your approach to science instruction as a whole.

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phenom 30b.png: A sample science assessment from Grade 5, illustrative of the scenario-based assessments we will begin seeing much more of in science education.

The above image is an example from DC Assessments. As a side note, you can expect to start seeing more and more of these types of assessments over the next few years. For now, note that the assessment itself engages students in a scenario, and that the scenario uses anchor phenomena. in this particular case, and a common setup, the anchor phenomena and is an idea or concept being investigated by a fictional student or student team. The student being tested is asked to create an opinion about what’s happening in the scenario, then support that opinion with evaluation and analysis of the fictional student's (or students’) results.

That's what you see in the image above. Trevor and Kayla engaged in a classroom hydroponics lesson. They created an apparatus and gathered the results shown in the scenario. The result was two opposing claims, and now the student being tested is asked whose claim is correct: Trevor’s or Kayla’s? They must then explain why that claim is correct and use evidence to support their choice.

This is that claim-evidence-reasonable model of writing in scientific argumentation, and it requires students to use their own knowledge, to be able to develop and use what's in front of them here and to be able to navigate the framework or science process being used in the example.

This is one of the blind spots, unfortunately, in the new standards: they do not offer a specific process for science or engineering. This may have been overlooked when designing the standards, or it may have been left out intentionally simply because going from the traditional model to the next generation model was already a lot, and going from practices to processes might just have been too much all at once. Whatever the reason, we at KnowAtom know that in order to create rich science and engineering education that engages students and helps them meet those performance expectations, we need process – a logical framework that moves from the question or problem to an evidence-based conclusion. As you can see, it comes in really handy in these kind of assessments.

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                                Here's another one where you can see students are given a bunch of different organisms. Again, relates to Trevor and Kayla, even though it's a different item. Students are asked to construct a food web and actually to explain how their model shows the shortest way for energy to get from plants to the fox and so on.

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Phenom 33-024287-edited.pngphenom 34-234332-edited.pngMore assessments that require students to step into the shoes of the students in the examples and form an evidence-based conclusion about their approach and the scientific or engineering principles and concepts being discussed.

In the images above, you can see students exploring a variety of different concepts and phenomena. Each of these scenarios draws different skills out of students, which they must be able to employ to perform the expectation being assessed. In one, they have to be able to describe the relationship between the organisms and the pond, and the exchange of matter back into the environment. In another, they must examine a student’s investigation of splashing water to whether the height of a diving platform was related to the height of a splash created by a cannonball into the water. In each of the scenarios, we see real-world phenomena employed to test whether students are prepared to meet the performance expectations they’ve been working with.

It becomes apparent why it’s so desperately important that students be given these real-world contexts in the day to day, otherwise how can they be expected to have mastery over them during assessment? If you’re from a PARCC state or district, you’ve already seen this in ELA, where a scenario is presented and students need to support their ideas with evidence. Other educators may be less familiar with this approach.

In our curriculum here at KnowAtom, one of the ways that we approach this from an assessment standpoint is that we actually give scenarios students have not encountered. Naturally this is after they complete the unit and lessons requiring them to create, evaluate and analyze by developing and using what they've learned in a very similar scenario to the one they will encounter on the assessment. In the course of that assessment, we interject new information and ask the students to consider that information, work with it, develop it and use it to reflect on the assumptions of the students in the question, or in the context itself.

Essentially what is happening is that each of the questions in the assessment is testing a different element of the three dimensions, thereby giving us a more complete picture of a student's ability to perform the expectation of the standards.

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Our curriculum incorporates professional development, materials and STEM learning, helping educators interface with the Next Generation Science Standards and produce students capable of meeting the expectations.

If you want to prepare students to be ready to tackle these phenomena-centered assessment questions, then it’s crucial they are prepared with science and engineering time-on-learning that engages them and teaches them to interact meaningfully with anchor and investigative phenomena, plan investigations, form evidence-based conclusions and debrief about ideas. This requires an NGSS-aligned curriculum, which, sad to say, even many NGSS-adoptive states are not currently working with.

If you'd like to take a look at one of the units we’ve designed for the Next Generation Science Standards, you can check it out Our NGSS units are for NGSS adoptive states as well as California, and we are aligned directly to all of those states. We have versions for adaptive states as well, such as Massachusetts, and offer a specific version for each state. Naturally, the curricula are quite complex, so seeing it in front of you can be very helpful in visualizing what it might look like in your own classroom.

These lesson plan examples are free to download, and include the teacher binder and students' reading materials from an entire month-long unit. If you like what you see, you can purchase the entire curriculum as well as the hands-on materials necessary to carry out the experimenting and prototyping. That's how we pay our bills and keep the lights on, so nothing would make us happier than helping you.

In the end, what will determine student success – and ongoing contributions to scientific knowledge, technological innovation, engineering advancement and mathematics – is whether or not students are prepared to think critically when faced with new scenarios. Just as our assessments create new situations for students to consider in order to test their mastery of the process, science education at institutions of higher learning and STEM careers will require the same divergent, critical thinking.

At the end of the day, if you want to prepare students to engage with real-world phenomena and succeed, it starts with bringing that phenomena into the classroom and giving students access to it on their own terms, unfettered, free to make mistakes, to learn and contribute, as individuals and teams.

Topics: Next Generation Science Standards

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