The purpose of this NSF funded DRK-12 Full Research and Development, Assessment Strand project is to develop rigorous assessment tools that will aid in generating evidence-based measures of teacher and student understanding of high school-level life science concepts. This project marks the final stage in the development and dissemination of a complete inventory of K-4, 5-8, and 9-12 assessments for physical, earth and space, and the life sciences based on the NRC Science Content Standards and their successors.
The no-cost availability of both public and secure forms of these assessments will aid in their usefulness to professional developers, science education researchers, and classroom teachers. The new assessments will be based upon the Next Generation Science Standards. As in previous work developing 1,800 items that have been incorporated into 24 validated instruments, the project makes use of the extensive and comprehensive research literature on learners' preconceptions in the life sciences to develop 400 valid new items. In addition, the developers of 13 concept inventories created for college-level students have given permission to use these valuable resources, from which items will be utilized or modified where appropriate. Comprehensive data will be gathered from a nationally representative sample of 20,000 high school biology students and their teachers, characterizing the content knowledge of both and allow the measurement of their psychometric performance. Subsets of test items will be organized into instruments and validated by life science content experts. When incorporated into the existing test item bank, these new life science items will also allow for construction of "general science" instruments to measure the concepts taught across all life science content standards at the K-4, 5-8, and 9-12 grade bands, and the cross-cutting concepts of energy and matter.
We will also use these items to finalize a comprehensive set of assessment instruments that can function as diagnostic tools to identify teachers' strength and weaknesses across all levels of life science. The items can measure the degree to which teachers hold the accepted scientific view (subject matter knowledge) and familiarity with their own students' ideas (pedagogical content knowledge of misconceptions), both shown to be essential to classroom gains. The application of psychometric models aligned with cognitive research findings will help to establish scales and subtests that accurately gauge the scientific understanding needed for teaching high school biology. During the 2015-16 school year, we will undertake a study to measure student gains in a nationally representative sample of high school biology classrooms to determine which concepts are understood by entering students and to what degree gains are associated with teacher knowledge and background. The dependency of high school-level learning gains, long assumed to be dependent on the mastery of content in earlier grades, will be measured and critical K-8 concepts identified.
The project's broadest impact will be that the availability of these tools will aid many different communities. Teacher preparation and professional development programs will gain by allowing for planning to strengthen teacher content knowledge and awareness of student ideas, and measurement of program effectiveness through pre- and post-testing. We have found that coupling students' performance on specific test items with the predictions made by their own teachers provides a reflective group exercise for teachers that will reinforce the sharing of effective teaching practices. Use of these instruments will help to familiarize both teachers and professional developers with the national standards. Incorporation of these new assessments into an existing online system will make administration easier for professional developers, researchers, and evaluators, and allow the aggregation of data from participating programs. High school biology teachers will have access to valid and reliable instruments to measure understanding and gains in their own classrooms. This synergy will help build a knowledge base to refine and create new courses and programs for teachers. National results from teachers' classrooms will provide a basis for the content covered in professional development and teacher preparation programs. Researchers and state policy makers will have additional tools to measure impact of subject matter knowledge on student gains.
Updates on the availability of openly available high school life science tests, which will be developed to parallel our research tests, will be posted on the MOSART Self-Service website, where tests in K-8 life science and in physical, earth and space science for all K-12 grade bands are currently available.