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Science Assessment Materials Reach New Audiences

Project 2061, AAAS' long-term initiative to help Americans become literate in science, mathematics, and technology, will see materials from its educational assessment website reach wider audiences as two new groups adapt, translate, and share the assessment items.

The assessment materials, used to measure students' understanding of the sciences in middle and early high school, will be amplified by Naiku, a Minnesota-based company whose assessment platform reaches teachers around the country, and a Canadian consortium that includes McGill University in Montreal.

"When organizations like this want to magnify the impact, it gets the assessment items out to that many more people," said Mary Koppal, Project 2061's communications director.

Project 2061's bank of assessment resources was developed beginning in 2004 by more than 20 AAAS staff, scores of reviewers, over a thousand teachers, and more than 150,000 students. Project 2061 aligned its assessment items to its own historic Benchmarks for Science Literacy, which lays out learning goals that ensure students achieve science literacy, as well as to the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards. The resulting items tests students' conceptual understanding of critical concepts in the fields of life science, physical science, earth science, and the nature of science.

Getting assessment materials in the hands of teachers helps fulfill goals set when Project 2061 launched 30 years ago.

George DeBoer, deputy director of Project 2061, said, "The initial work was about goal-setting and describing a vision for science literacy in the country, and the work since then has been more about implementation: what kind of tools and resources can be made available to teachers."

The assessment materials will no longer be limited to English speakers. The McGill group requested to translate some materials into French — the first such request received by Project 2061, Koppal said.

Project 2061 materials will help the Quebec-based project to improve the conceptual understanding of science and technology by seventh- and eighth-grade students. Academics from McGill University and Université du Québec à Montréal and partners from three school boards in Quebec sought to identify incorrect notions about science that students hold — which is just one area of strength for Project 2061. The assessment website includes tests for common misconceptions as well as data on how well U.S. students are doing in science and the areas where they are having difficulties.

Anila Asghar, associate professor in McGill University's Faculty of Education, praised the depth of the Project 2061 materials.

"These items focus not only on content, but on student's problem-solving skills, their scientific reasoning, and how they approach a particular problem," Asghar said.

"These items could be used anywhere," Asghar said, especially with the adaptations the group made to make the assessment materials even more useful to the school districts involved in the effort. The group made materials available in both English and French and adapted materials to align more closely with local curriculum requirements.

The items will be distributed through the LEARN Quebec website to reach educators throughout the province.

Naiku will also bring Project 2061 materials to a new platform. According to CEO Greg Wright, Naiku allows teachers to measure and track student knowledge with tests they create, upload in a variety of formats, and share with their peers in the platform. Yet teachers' heavy workloads can be eased by the inclusion of Project 2061 materials, which are a natural fit for the platform, Wright added.

"Teachers love and benefit from having test items that are already expertly written for them," Wright said.

"We want to help them assess their students, so they can best provide guidance," Wright said. Project 2061 materials, when shared and tracked within the Naiku platform, help teachers "quickly and efficiently" pinpoint what students do and don't know. That way, Wright said, teachers get to truly focus on teaching.