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New Testing Feature at AAAS Web Site Helps Teachers Find Gaps in Students’ Science Knowledge

Teachers can now create online tests using a new feature at an innovative Web site from AAAS that compiles national data on what students know about key science concepts.

The “Create & Take Tests” module, developed by AAAS’s Project 2061 science literacy initiative, is available at the AAAS Science Assessment Web site. Building on the site’s core of over 700 assessment items, teachers can use the new module to create multiple-choice science tests for their classroom that can target key ideas in 16 science topics, from evolution and natural selection to atoms, molecules, and states of matter. The tests can be administered and scored online, and results can be compared to national scores on the same topics.

“In developing the assessment website, we asked for feedback from teachers,” said George DeBoer, the deputy director of Project 2061 who led the assessment project. “Many of them suggested the need for a way to assemble high-quality assessments of what their students were learning.”

“Getting reliable and timely information about what students know or don’t know means that teachers can adjust their instruction to respond quickly to their students’ needs.”

The assessment Web site, launched in April 2011, offers an unusually detailed picture of what middle and high school students across the United States know about important science concepts—and catalogues hundreds of misconceptions they have about everything from the size of atoms to whether all organisms have DNA. Teachers can collect and store a personal database of assessment items on the Web site to guide their lesson plans or to create tests using the new module.

Josh Flory, an 8th grade science teacher at New Albany Middle School in Ohio, has used the feature to design pre- and post-tests for his students in biology, geology, and the physical sciences. He said his students were eager to see how their scores compared against the national averages for each question.

“As a teacher, it’s been really helpful for me to see where my students’ misconceptions are, and where there might be holes in what they’ve learned,” Flory said. “It’s been a good way for me to see what I might re-teach and re-visit throughout the school year.”

The immediate feedback from the online test, he added, “has been a very powerful tool for students, and gives them a chance to see where they’re starting from and where they can grow.”

About 160 new items on weather and climate have been added to the Web site since last spring, said Project 2061 communications Director Mary Koppal, noting that the site has seen 12,000 registered users and nearly 70,000 visitors since its launch a year ago.

Interest in the site has been high, she said, and AAAS will be hosting several workshops for teachers, testing specialists, and school district administrators on the procedures involved in developing the assessment items.

Project 2061 developed the assessment items and collected data on them in a seven-year effort funded by a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation. Building on that work, the U.S. Department of Education has awarded Project 2061 a new $1.5 million grant, starting in August 2012, to create a set of assessments that measure late elementary to high school students’ understanding of energy concepts.

The new testing module was presented at the meeting of the National Science Teachers Association, held from 29 March to 1 April in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Visit the AAAS Project 2061 Science Assessment Web site.

Learn more about Project 2061, AAAS’s science education reform and science literacy initiative