Blog Series

Beyond ELA and Math: Assessing Science and Writing

by Sally Valenzuela on Aug 19, 2020

  • Assessment
  • Science
Sally Valenzuela

About ClearSight

Developing scientific-thinking skills is more important today than ever. Current events show us that the ability to evaluate scientific facts and think critically about them is critical. As a former science teacher, I was thrilled when science assessment became part of ESSA in 2015. Many adults remember their science instruction as a series of facts to memorize or experiments with plants, but today the Next Generation Science Standards describe science as multidimensional learning, including concepts such as cause and effect and science and engineering practices as well as core ideas from the science disciplines. In today’s global context, thinking analytically, evaluating information, and making reasonable decisions based on data must be part of every child's learning.

Science assessments have been developed to reflect these standards and innovative item types make it easier to obtain evidence of student's scientific thinking. States are now required to assess science once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school. Districts should have an ongoing, periodic assessment program to ensure students are continually developing the skills and critical thinking practices that will be assessed at the end of the year.

The advent of technology-enhanced item types has allowed science assessment to move beyond the rote to focus on scientific thinking and analysis. ClearSight uses multiple item types, including simulations, to give students an opportunity to interact with science content. Using ClearSight throughout the year can help ensure students are building key scientific-thinking skills and understanding of science concepts across the years.

Grades 3–5 Sample ClearSight Science Item

Science Item 1 Science Item 2

Assessing Writing

Writing effectively has always been important, and the Common Core State Writing Standards emphasize all aspects of language use, from vocabulary and syntax to the development and organization of ideas using increasingly demanding content and sources. Students should show increasing sophistication in their writing from grade to grade.

The assessment of these writing skills encompasses multiple modes.

  • Formative writing evaluation at the classroom level can include self- and peer-assessments, discussion, observations, checklists, and other individual and collaborative techniques to build student writing skills.
  • Summative assessments, at the other end of the spectrum, may include portfolios and other performance-based measures as well as a formal year-end state assessment.
  • Periodic district assessments, in between formative and summative, can provide evaluative and descriptive feedback to students on their path toward mastery of writing standards.

Evaluating writing samples can be time consuming, but feedback to fledgling writers is critical. The development of rubrics to evaluate student writing provides not only direction and guidance to the writer, but also facilitates grading of student essays by both peers and teachers.

Online periodic assessment systems that provide automated scoring of writing samples can provide teachers and students with immediate feedback using a predefined rubric. These systems save grading time for teachers and provide students with timely feedback about their work. ClearSight Interim Assessments provide machine-scored writing assessments for tracking student progress toward the mastery of writing standards.

Sample Writing Rubric (Opinion)
Grades 3–5: Purpose/Organization

Sample Writing Rubric

When selecting and planning for periodic assessments throughout the year as part of a balanced assessment system, don't forget science and writing.

Sally Valenzuela has more than 30 years’ experience in K–12 education, including 17 years with a focus on large-scale assessment, K–12 summative and interim assessments, and professional licensure and certification programs. She has worked in product management and assessment development, with specific interests in defining development procedures for technology-enhanced item types and designing and implementing tagging procedures to support accessibility tagging.

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