Creating Assessments for the NGSS: Step By Step Guide

NGSS assessments can be, but aren’t always a traditional exam. Follow these steps to design 3D assessments for the NGSS in whatever format works for you.In Monday’s post, we covered what three dimensional assessments are and why we should be using them, but we still haven’t discussed how to create three dimensional assessments. Because these assessments are SO DIFFERENT than our traditional tests, it may take some time to get familiar with this process.  That said, I’ve broken it into a series of steps to get you started.




Step One:

The first step is to determine what you will assess. While you may have many objectives from your unit, ranging from the more basic content knowledge to more complicated skills and concepts, you will want to select just a few to focus our assessment on.  Use the NGSS Performance Expectation, and specifically its Evidence Statements, to construct objectives for your assessment.


Step Two:

The second step is to frame your task around an assessment scenario. This scenario will connect to the disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts that you selected.  It should also be something “similar but new” to what students experienced during the course of the unit. Scenarios can be descriptions of a phenomena in the form of text, media, data or another type of model.  The scenario could also be a scientific investigation or a real world problem.


Step Three:

Once you have created your scenario you will choose a task for the given science and engineering practice.  Each Performance Expectation is structured around a certain Science and Engineering Practice, so your assessment should obviously ask students to carry out that practice.  That said, there can and often will be more than one task associated with each scenario. You can incorporate additional practices into secondary tasks or even just into questions that fall within a task.  I often use a tiered format that presents the scenario, the initial task, and then some additional questions or prompts that build from the initial task and help me to guage student understanding.


When you are choosing tasks – both the initial and subsequent prompts or questions – you may find it valuable to view the breakdown of the Science and Engineering Practices available at the NSTA. Click on each practice at the site to view the components of each and their grade level/band progression.


Step Four:

The last step is to create your rubric. NGSS assessments are going to be more difficult to grade because they are task-based.  Students will demonstrate a varied level of mastery, and your grades should reflect their learning at whatever point its at. Rubrics make it much easier to quantify student performance, and depending on the rubric you choose, offer opportunities to provide valuable feedback to your students.


While I have always used traditional rubrics, I recently learned about single point rubrics from Erin Sadler of Sadler Science.  I would suggest you investigate both options and choose what works best for you and your students. There are certainly pros and cons to both traditional and single point rubrics, but I have to say I am very intrigued and excited by the prospect of trying out the latter!


The Format Of Your Assessment

While traditional tests are usually given to individuals sitting at seperate seats with the expectation that studetns will not talk, share their ideas, or use other resources, NGSS assessments don’t always have to be given in this manner.  What are some assessment formats for the NGSS?


  1. Traditional Setting

You can use a traditional exam setting (not a traditional exam, but a traditional setting!) to give your NGSS-aligned assessment.  You can provide students with the scenario, task, and questions, and ask them to complete these independently without talking, sharing ideas, or using other resources.  This is perfectly acceptable, and it does not draw away from the three dimensional nature of the assessment as long as the assessment is designed to truly integrate all three dimensions.


  1. Research Projects

Research projects can make great three dimensional assessments.  Students can take what the general concepts they have learned and apply these to a new situation by conducting research and communicating what they have found.  You can absolutely tie in Science and Engineering Practices to a research project. While Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information is an obvious connection, you could integrate opportunities to collect and analyze data, develop a model, construct an explanation of a new phenomenon, or argue from evidence.


  1. Engineering Design Challenges

Engineering design challenges can work as great assessments, as students apply their understanding of concepts (everything from changes in ecosystems to the transfer of thermal energy!) to solve a problem.  Through their analysis of the criteria and constraints, their explanation of their solution and rationale for their choices, and any revisions they make during the process, students can demonstrate the concepts they understand (or don’t).


  1. Instructionally-Embedded Assessments

You may decide to forgo a “test day” and instead engage students in a long-term project that embeds assessment throughout an instructional sequence.  Students essentially are given the scenario and overarching task at the beginning of the unit, and they work toward completing it in steps as they move through the instructional sequence.  They compile all of their work at the end to turn in as their final assessment, which can truly only be completed if they have mastered each individual component. This type of assessment will obviously take more time and integrate many Science and Engineering Practices in the pursuit of the main task.