New Meridian Science Director Chris Lazzaro told a group of hundreds of educators at the National Science Teaching Association’s Engage conference this month that assessment cannot get left behind as the field continues its years-long effort to implement Next Generation Science Standards. 

“The need for scientific literacy is only going to grow,” Lazzaro said, noting that science is very much a part of the national conversation, from climate change to pandemic recovery.  

“We need future generations to have a firm understanding of how science is conducted and how we build knowledge,” he said. “An understanding of science is really no longer a luxury for a highly educated few. It’s a requirement for everybody to productively participate in civic discourse.”

High-quality assessment aligned to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) must take its place alongside curriculum and professional development as part of the system that delivers the high-quality science education outlined in the standards, Lazzaro said.

While science assessment can be both complicated and expensive, pooling resources, adopting common quality standards and increasing assessment literacy among teachers and administrators can help.  

“We are looking at how we can support high-quality assessments aligned to the overall vision and goals of the Next Generation Science Standards,” Lazzaro said.  

At New Meridian, Lazzaro and his team launched the New Meridian Science Exchange last year which provides states with simple and cost-effective access to high-quality assessment items aligned to NGSS. The exchange allows states flexible options such as drawing from a bank of test items to create NGSS-aligned assessments or contributing items to the bank to produce licensing revenue. The result is a safe and effective system that dramatically expedites modern science assessment.

The team also developed the Framework for Quality Review of NGSS Science Assessment Items last year to help states review and evaluate test items. Lazzaro calls the Framework a “living document,” anticipating review and commentary from science educators and perhaps revision in the future.

Forty-four states representing 71 percent of the U.S. student population have already aligned their standards to the framework that preceded and influenced the NGSS or adopted the NGSS outright. Lazzaro, who started as a high school physics teacher in New York City and has worked in science education for more than 15 years, including roughly a decade at the College Board, said cooperation makes sense with so many states on board.

 “I think it would be in all of our best interests to pool our resources and get more use out of the content we are all starting to build,” he said.

Improving assessment with an eye toward informing classroom instruction is vital, Lazzaro said, in order to support teachers and advance the standards.    

“I think of the standards as the backbone,” he said. “Off of that backbone, we have professional development, we have curriculum and we have assessments. They all are trying to align back to the standards. If you take one piece of that away, the whole stool begins to fall over. We need strong curriculum in the classroom for students to succeed. We need strong professional development to support teachers so they can implement good curriculum. And we need to be able to measure student outcomes to know what we are doing is the right thing.”