A New Science Framework

How do we know whether an 8th-grade student is proficient in science? (Ditto for reading, math, or any other content area.) Who decides, and on what basis are such determinations made? Obviously, some form of assessment is required in order to meaningfully answer such questions. But how are assessments developed? How do we know what to assess and how to assess it?

The development of an assessment – a structured, legitimate opportunity for students to demonstrate what they know and are able to do relative to a particular subject – almost always follows from the creation and adoption of a subject matter framework. Frameworks provide definitions and robust descriptions of a construct. That is to say, a framework spells out what we mean when we speak of ‘science’, ‘math’, ‘social studies’, or ‘reading’. Some frameworks go a step farther by describing the manner in which the demonstration of knowledge and ability in a particular subject should best be observed, measured, and understood.

As one might have assumed, each state adopts a set of subject matter frameworks upon which its respective assessments are based. In most states, private schools are at liberty to either follow the frameworks developed for public schools, adapt portions thereof, or mostly ignore them. In California, where there is no requirement that private schools must adhere to the state curricular frameworks, many private school leaders regard them as useful, if not indispensable.

Sometimes a group of states participates collaboratively in the development of a framework. For example, California was one of 26 lead state partners in the creation of the Next Generation Science Standards (though only 20 states have currently adopted this framework). If, however, states differ in their understandings of what science means and how knowledge and ability in science can best be demonstrated and evaluated, who is the arbiter of such matters for the nation as a whole?

To apply a bit of inductive reasoning, if state assessments follow from state content frameworks, one might turn to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, also known as The Nation’s Report Card) if one is looking for national subject matter frameworks. Indeed, NAEP, long regarded as the gold standard in large-scale assessments, grounds its various tests in a set of frameworks. NAEP Frameworks are developed under the auspices of the National Assessment Governing Board, an independent, nonpartisan body whose 26 members (appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Education) are responsible for setting policy for NAEP. This includes oversight of the framework development process.

It is NAGB’s practice to review a NAEP framework at least once every 10 years to determine whether an update is necessary. The development of a NAEP framework is an intensive and expansive multi-year project involving scores of people. Fashioned under the guidance of NAGB’s Assessment Development Committee, NAGB staff, and Steering and Development Panels whose members include subject matter experts, teachers, researchers, policy makers, business leaders and members of the general public, NAEP frameworks are the closest thing we have to a national consensus about how a content area should be conceived, and how proficiency in the content area should be assessed.

In November, 2023, NAGB approved an updated NAEP Science Framework which will serve as the basis for the development of national assessments in science beginning in 2028. A pre-publication copy of the new NAEP Science Framework is available to view or download, here, and readers are encouraged to skim through it to obtain a sense of its scope and depth. Of course, those with an interest in science ought to give the Framework a careful and considered reading.

The new NAEP Science Framework wasn’t created sui generis. Its content draws upon key elements of the Next Generation Science Standards, frameworks employed in non-NGSS-adopting states, and best practices in contemporary Science education. Because it is intended as a foundation for NAEP, its content spells out what students should be expected to know and do at grade levels 4, 8, and 12.

The NAEP Science Framework’s clear exposition makes it easy for readers to understand what science entails. Its model assessment items demonstrate how it is possible to determine whether, and to what extent students are able to apply scientific principles and practices to make meaning out of phenomena and solve real life problems.

Kudos are in order to those who took the lead in steering the development of the newly updated Framework. NAGB Assistant Director Sharyn Rosenberg and NAGB Assessment Development Committee Chair Patrick Kelly guided the process from start to finish. A 30-member Steering Panel was led by a remarkable Leadership Team consisting of the following four prominent science educators:

Aneesha Badrinarayan
Director of State Performance Assessment Initiatives
Learning Policy Institute
Washington, DC

Jenny Ferrell Christian
STEM Director of K–12 Science and Wellness
Dallas Independent School District
Dallas, TX

Nancy Hopkins-Evans
Associate Director for Program Impact
Senior Science Educator
BSCS Science Learning
Wayne, PA

Joseph Krajcik
Lappan-Phillips Professor
Michigan State University College of Education and the College of Natural Science
East Lansing, MI

While it would be unrealistic to expect every student to become a scientist, the new NAEP Science Framework spells out how every student can learn how to think like one.

Ron Reynolds

Note: The commentary and views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of the California Association of Private School Organizations, or its members.


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