Top 5 takeaways: The Power of 3-D Performance Assessments

NGSS has shifted the way science educators are thinking about and designing instruction and assessment. One way to address these shifts for California educators is to consider how 3-D performance assessments can help teachers chart their students’ progress towards meeting the goals of NGSS.

Cathy Zozakiewicz recently presented the webinar “The Power of 3-D Performance Assessments: CA NGSS, CAST, and Beyond.” Here are our top 5 takeaways:


1. The key to NGSS is three-dimensional learning.

With NGSS, science teaching and learning is no longer just about memorizing information. At its heart are Performance Expectations, describing what students are expected to know and to be able to do. To meet these expectations, students have to think like scientists, using knowledge in creative and analytical ways. They apply their understanding of scientific concepts to solve problems and make connections between the various STEM disciplines.

2. The three-dimensions of NGSS learning are SEPs, DCIs, and CCCs.

There are three main components of NGSS Performance Expectations. The first is Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). These are specific activities—such as using models and carrying out investigations—that scientists and engineers use in the real world. Students following SEPs behave just like real scientists. The second component is Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs). These are made up of the primary knowledge and facts that students are expected to know in each discipline. The third component is Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs), which are the concepts that come up time and time again across all the science disciplines—things like patterns and cause and effect.

3. To maximize 3-D learning, we need to think about the assessments we use.

Many forms of assessments—Q&As, research projects—are good at measuring single dimensions of Performance Expectations, but ideally we want to develop assessments that provide evidence of the three-dimensions of NGSS. That’s where performance assessment comes in. Performance assessment is learning by doing. Unlike traditional forms of assessment, in which students learn and then get assessed at the end of an instructional unit, students are assessed as they perform and demonstrate real science practices and reasoning during the entire instructional sequence.

4. Performance assessment is assessment for and as learning.

Performance assessment is educative, because it provides teachers with actionable data—to understand what students are able to do and struggling to do. This allows teachers to give feedback and guidance and actually change what and how they teach as they proceed through a course. What’s more, students assess themselves—they know what they can do right now and what they need to learn. So performance assessment is more integrated with learning and has an impact on how that learning develops, rather than just being a measure of learning already attained.

5. Twig Science’s hands-on investigations make performance assessment truly three-dimensional.

Every Twig Science module features an immersive storyline, with hands-on investigations in which students try to solve problems, analyse their results, and make improvements. The investigations are explicitly tied to the three dimensions of NGSS—students gain knowledge, develop real STEM skills, and make connections between different disciplines. Students are being assessed in the NGSS performance expectations, the practices of scientists and engineers.  Students are also expected to assess themselves as they consider how to develop their ideas, models or solutions. Often they have no idea they are being assessed because they are so involved in what they’re doing—designing solutions, manipulating data, talking to each other, learning from errors. It’s a really effective and dynamic way of learning.

Cathy provides technical consulting and support through Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, & Equity (SCALE). She develops innovative, educational, and state-of-the-art performance assessments for evaluating student learning. The Stanford NGSS Assessment Project (SNAP) team, many of whom, including Cathy, are part of SCALE, were invited by the California Department of Education and ETS to evaluate and provide feedback on assessment items and the development process for CAST.

Watch the full webinar here.