Chris Lazzaro has spent the last year helping to develop the New Meridian Science Exchange. We caught up with him to discuss science assessment.

Tell us about your role at New Meridian.

I am the Director of Science Programs. I lead our science work, which at the moment consists of developing the New Meridian Science Exchange Item Bank.

You are passionate about science education. Why is science education so important for college and career readiness in today’s environment?

Science Education is important because it highlights a way of learning through investigation (i.e., an epistemology). As young children, we are all inherently scientists. We learn by observing the world and the people around us. We collect data, test boundaries, and revise our hypothesis about how things work. Then we get to school and we are “told” the way things work. We are given a lesson on history, lectured to about how to write a sentence, and given the rules of math. Science education is important because it gives us the tools to decipher for ourselves the fundamental truths about the natural world, and it makes us more productive members of society.

Do you think the importance of science education has grown in the last 10 years?

No, I think science education has been an important aspect of a well-rounded education for the past 70-80 years. In 1957, the Russians launched Sputnik, and the United States immediately felt the need to react. The next year, NASA was founded and the 1958 National Defense Education Act diverted large amounts of money to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education. To organize how these funds were to be used, standards were developed and assessments to measure these standards were considered necessary. Throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, science education was given a lot of attention and money.

The past 10 years has just brought a new focus to science education. We have learned a lot in past decades about how people learn, and the consequences of a scientifically illiterate public. This is what has brought on a push for new standards, such as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and a focus on the epistemological components of science—learning through investigation—that we now value so much more than just knowing a lot of facts.

How does science assessment differ from assessments for math and English?

In science, there is a strong focus on measuring not what students know about a particular content area, but how applying that knowledge can answer a question that is presented to a student. For example, a student may be asked to study a graph, then asked to support a particular hypothesis using the data from the graph. The content can be on a relatively obscure topic, but measuring the student’s ability to provide a justification for a hypothesis (or refute the hypothesis) is what is important to measure.

Why is it important for states and districts to maintain a focus on science, even as the nation’s education system is undergoing so much change?

We only need to look at the current COVID-19 pandemic to find a strong example of why a scientifically literate public is so important. Over the past 6 months, every American has become an amateur epidemiologist. Science, and specially scientific literacy, allows us to make better, more-informed decisions.

If you buy into the idea that each state’s education system is charged with producing productive members of society that will add to the human capital of that society, or how John Dewey put it, “sharing of social experience so that children become integrated into the democratic community,” then depriving any citizen of a science education would be turning your back on that mission.

You were instrumental in creating the New Meridian Science Exchange. Tell us about it.

New Meridian did not create a science assessment. New Meridian created a marketplace where states can come to exchange science items. States are able to join the exchange and gain access to high-quality test items, which they can use to create the assessments they need. States can also contribute items to the bank and earn licensing revenue.

Before New Meridian will accept any items, they are reviewed by a panel of experts using a framework that we developed. Contributing states are provided with the results of the item review and all items that pass the review process are included in the New Meridian Science Item Bank. Subscribing states are able to then license these items for their assessments. They are also able to access all of the metadata associated with each item, including the results of the New Meridian review.

Our goal was to help states create very high-quality science assessments. The New Meridian Science Exchange does that, while giving states maximum flexibility.