Making Assessment Prompts that are NGSS-Aligned

At this point, there doesn’t seem to be a bank of released NGSS assessment items that we can draw from to use in our own classes, especially for traditional Chemistry classes. This means, that we as teachers may need to write some of our own assessment prompts to use in our classes. A question that arises is, “How do I know if my assessment item is NGSS-aligned?”

I think some of the biggest strengths of the NGSS approach to teaching science are emphasis on incorporating phenomena into our classes and the focus on science practices. These have been broadly organized into the “3-Dimensions”: Science & Engineering Practices, Core Ideas, and Cross-Cutting Concepts. NGSS-aligned assessment items must incorporate elements from each of these “3-Dimensions”. Regardless of your opinion of NGSS or the extent to which you implement it in your classes, I think there is value in occasionally using NGSS-style assessment questions, due to higher-level thinking they may require, but also to help students prepare for standardized end-of-course tests they may face. I don’t plan for my tests to consist entirely of NGSS-style prompts, but going forward I will strive to have at least a couple of 3-dimensional NGSS-style assessment prompts my students respond for each unit.

Most, if not all, of the sample “3-Dimensional” NGSS assessment items I have seen are a grouping of several questions based on a phenomenon. There is a passage with information, and then several questions based on the passage. This format has some resemblance to a passage on the ACT Science test.

Personally, I’m much more likely to implement and follow a set of criteria or rubric if it is focused and simple to use. Achieve has developed some screeners to help determine if an assessment item is NGSS-aligned:

However, I think these screeners lack focus and/or are overly detailed to the point of not being practical for a classroom teacher to use. I developed the simple set of criteria below to help me determine if my assessment items are consistent with NGSS. I realize my criteria leaves out some details due to its simplicity, but at the same time the simplicity is its strength. I am open to any feedback, comments, or criticisms readers may have on the criteria below.

I believe an assessment task that includes the items below will almost always be able to be considered NGSS-aligned:

  • The passage is based on a phenomenon or storyline about a phenomenon.
  • There is some data to collect and/or analyze that is related to the phenomenon.
  • The prompt includes questions that collectively require students to use at least 3 of the science practices* below:
    • Asking questions
    • Making or using models
    • Designing and/or carrying out experiments
    • Interpreting results of experiments
    • Computational thinking
    • Communication: writing explanations and/or engaging in argument

*Note: I know that under NGSS there are actually 8 Science and Engineering practices. I feel that the NGSS practices touching on communication are redundant so I consolidated them into 6 practices here for simplicity.

I realize I did not specifically mention the Core Ideas or Cross-Cutting Concepts in the criteria above. This is for simplicity and also because an assessment item that meets all the criteria above will naturally incorporate these, making the assessment item “3-Dimensional”. Core Ideas will be the specific topic or concept tested. Cross-Cutting Concepts are so fundamental to all of Science that a task based on a phenomenon and several science practices will almost always touch on at least one Cross-Cutting Concept. As teachers, we need to highlight these Cross-Cutting Concepts during instruction so students are familiar with them and can cite them in their assessment responses.