2061 Connections
An electronic newsletter for the science education community

September/October 2008

NSDL, Assessment Projects to Advance High-Quality Resources

Project 2061 has begun work on newly funded efforts to improve the quality of resources available to K-12 science educators. With a grant from the National Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education Digital Library (NSDL) program, Project 2061 is training staff of Pathways digital libraries to discern resources that are aligned with content standards and of high instructional quality. In addition, Project 2061 is collaborating with WestEd—the nonprofit research, development, and service agency—on a series of studies that investigate various aspects of technology-enhanced assessment.

The descriptions below provide details about the projects and links to information on Project 2061’s related research and tools for science educators.

Building Capacity for Determining the Content Alignment and
Instructional Quality of K-12 NSDL Resources

This two-year project involves training NSDL Pathways personnel to determine the content alignment and instructional quality of their K-12 resources using Project 2061’s research-based criteria. Project 2061 has already used these criteria effectively to evaluate science and mathematics textbooks and, in a previous NSDL project called PRISMS, to review and select online materials.

Training workshops will cover the essential steps of the alignment process, such as clarifying the ideas in content standards and determining how well a resource addresses the scope and level of sophistication of those ideas. Content alignment training will be designed to apply to any learning goal, whether it is a national standard (from AAAS’s Benchmarks for Science Literacy or the National Research Council’s National Science Education Standards) or a state or local standard. The workshops will also train participants to use Project 2061’s criteria to determine how likely it is that resources will contribute to effective teaching and student learning of the key ideas in standards. Workshops will be recorded for subsequent viewing and online tutorials with practice tasks will accompany them.

“Helping more digital library personnel to determine the content alignment and instructional quality of their resources will, in time, increase the proportion of high-quality resources in the NSDL,” noted Francis Molina, Project 2061’s technology director and principal investigator for the new project. “This is especially important because teachers are under increasing pressure to use instructional materials that can help their students achieve required standards. Currently available resources vary greatly in their alignment to standards and their instructional quality, so this is a chance to make a positive contribution to the NSDL and to student learning.”

The Pathways and major collections involved in the project include BiosciEdNet (BEN), Communities for Physics and Astronomy Digital Resources in Education (ComPADRE), the Chemistry Pathway (ChemED DL), Teachers’ Domain, Middle School Portal, Science and Math Informal Learning Educators (SMILE), and the Digital Library for Earth System Education (DLESE). The project will attain even broader reach by including in the training participants from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Thinkfinity, a digital learning platform supported by the Verizon Foundation.

Related Research and Tools
Read about how Project 2061’s curriculum materials analysis procedure was used in a previous NSDL project run by the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance in “PRISMS Collection Now Online” (Project 2061 Connections, July/August 2007).

Explore Project 2061’s evaluations of science and mathematics textbooks.

Assisting WestEd with Technology-Enhanced Assessment Research
In their work to develop a collection of assessment items closely aligned to science content standards, Project 2061 staff have been busy clarifying what learning goals expect students to know, pilot testing assessment items with students, conducting national field tests of items, leading panels of science educators in analyzing items, and improving items bit by bit through multiple rounds of revisions. Now, Project 2061’s assessment team will bring its expertise in developing and evaluating assessments to bear on a series of studies that investigate various aspects of technology-enhanced assessment.

The four studies are run by WestEd and funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education: Foundations of 21st Century Science Assessments (NSF-REESE); Calipers II: Using Simulations to Assess Complex Science Learning (NSF DRK-12); SimScientists: Interactive Simulation-Based Science Learning Environments (ED IES); and Multilevel Assessments of Science Standards (MASS) (ED IES).

“We are very pleased to collaborate with WestEd on these studies. WestEd has made significant contributions to the field of assessment, most recently as developers of the assessment framework and item specifications for the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress,” said George DeBoer, deputy director of Project 2061.

“Project 2061's role in these studies is to assist in the development of high-quality technology-enhanced assessment tools and to document the content alignment and validity of those assessments,” DeBoer said. “Through this collaboration, we are able to study the benefits of using various dynamic assessment task design structures that technology makes possible.”

With states now required to test science under the No Child Left Behind Act, and an increased use of technology-based science tests at every level, these projects seek to address crucial questions about the design and use of science assessments.

Related Research
Read about and access Project 2061’s chapter in Assessing Science Learning: Perspectives From Research and Practice, a 2008 collection of essays from NSTA Press, in “Bridging Assessment Research and Practice” (Project 2061 Connections, July/August 2008).

Learn more about Project 2061’s research and development focused on linking science assessments to content standards.

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For more information about Project 2061’s assessment research and NSDL work, please contact:

Principal Investigator, Assessment: Dr. George DeBoer, (202) 326-6624

Principal Investigator, NSDL: Dr. Francis Molina, (202) 326-7002

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