Sunday, February 17, 2019

Practice items for California's upcoming NGSS test

The time has come for students of science in California. That's right, CDE's CAASPP's NGSS CAST from ETS goes operational this spring.

That wasn't a cat walking across my keyboard; that was the initialisms and acronyms that spell out the new state-mandated assessment regime in California.

NGSS is, of course, the Next Generation Science Standards. CAASPP is the CAlifornia Assessment of Student Performance and Progress. CAST is CAlifornia Science Test. (I'm suddenly envious of the science tests given in Missouri and Virginia, less so for those in Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Washington, Wisconsin, and lastly, Louisiana. ETA: Looks like I missed Michigan and passed Pennsylvania. I'll be here all weak.)

NGSS has been around for some time now, with its multi-colored documentation of Performance Expectations, Science and Engineering Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas, and Crosscutting Concepts. California has digested NGSS into its own Science Framework. The Framework and NGSS articulate broad, sweeping visions of science instruction.

CAASPP is the program tasked with testing. The previous iteration of this (in California) was State Testing And Reporting (STAR). This is where the lofty visions presented in the vision documents (NGSS/Framework this time) must be broken down into test questions ("assessment items"). As it was during the STAR era, the California Department of Education (CDE) has contracted the services of Educational Testing Services (ETS) to develop the CAST. (The proliferation of initialisms and acronyms indicate the importance of the enterprise.)

Assessments are where the rubber of the grand visions meet the road of perceived accountability. I say this as someone who served on the Golden State Exam development committee and was appointed by the State Board of Education to serve on CDE's CRP (Content Review Panel, later rebranded as the ARP: Assessment Review Panel).

I am a relentless advocate for released test questions (RTQs). The vision documents are necessary, I suppose. But they never really specify measurable outcomes. The visions boil down to "all students should be knowledgeable in science and capable of performing scientific analysis and related tasks." But vision documents quickly blow up into phonebook sized documents with webs of interrelated objectives that can make tri-level chess seem simple by comparison. But with a sufficient bank of RTQs, I will know exactly what your vision was. Inductive reasoning is really the only way to connect standards and assessments, here.

Until recently, there were just a handful of CAST RTQs available. You can find them on the California Science Test Training Items Scoring Guide: High School (PDF).  The mix of topics (PE/DCIs) left much to be desired.

Life Science: 6 - Earth Science: 1 - Physical Science: 0 - Engineering Design: 0

Remember that in NGSS, high school science opposes three domains: Life Science, Earth Science, and Physical Science. The old subjects known as "chemistry" and "physics" have been combined into Physical Science. But not even one RTQ covered anything in Physical Science.

More recently, a raft of 50 RTQs has been launched. You can find them on the California Science Test Practice Items Scoring Guide: High School (PDF). The mix seems a bit better:

Life Science: 16 - Earth Science: 15 - Physical Science: 15 - Engineering Design: 4

Of the 14 items tagged as Physical Science, 6 related to topics covered in physics. The other 9 were chemistry questions.

Comments and criticism of specific items will be offered in a later post.

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