Assessment items

I’m interested in finding some science assessments to supplement the state tests at the high school level. I’m especially looking for ones that will help me understand students’ thinking.
—Lisa, Fort Myers, Florida

It would be very difficult to find an existing test that matches your curriculum exactly. Some textbooks have test-generators as an option, but the questions and unit topics may not align with your curriculum or match up with your learning objectives (and some of the questions I’ve seen in these resources are not well designed and many of them are focused on factual recall). Another option would be to create the items yourself, but constructing items can be a time-consuming process.
The state science assessments I’m most familiar with give teachers yearly reports on their students’ scores but do not provide information on how the students answered individual items. It can be useful to see what percentage of the students chose the incorrect distracters. This information can help the teacher identify misconceptions and areas in which additional instruction is necessary. But most standardized test results do not provide this type of item analysis.
I’m really interested in the Science Assessment tool recently published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). High school level topics address concepts in life science, physical science, earth science, and the nature of science. For each topic, there are several key ideas and sub-ideas (some schools may refer to these as big ideas and essential concepts) you can match to your science curriculum. Each sub-idea has a collection of multiple-choice items to add to your test bank. The items are designed to help you determine what your students understand and what misconceptions they may bring to class (there’s a section for each item with an analysis of how students in the pilot group answered the questions). You must register (free) to use the site, and you can save the items you select and print them as PDF or HTML files (or copy and paste into a word processor, spread sheet, or test generator).

TIMSS has released items in science and mathematics for grades 4 and 8. A scoring guide is provided for the open-ended questions. Another option would be to look at the website of your state assessment system to find released items and scoring samples for science.
The resources I’ve noted are not test-generators. You would have to copy and paste into your own documents. But the bonus information they provide on misconceptions and how students performed on these items is worth the formatting work. If you use the test (or individual items) with a clicker system, you can get immediate feedback on the students’ answers for your own item analysis.
PALS (Performance Assessment Links in Science) is another resource you could consider. There are dozens of performance assessment tasks, organized by standard, grade level, and topic. Each one references one or more of the National Science Education Standards. Each assessment includes a detailed description, a student handout with places to record data and observations, a scoring rubric, and the results of any formal validation. There are examples of actual student work at each of the rubric levels. This could definitely be a supplement to traditional paper-and-pencil tests.
I’d also recommend the Uncovering Student Ideas in Science series of books from NSTA. These formative assessment probes can help you uncover student preconceptions and can be used as a pre-assessment or warm-up for a unit.

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