NYSED recently released Frequently Asked Questions Related to Investigations for the Elementary- and Intermediate-level Science Tests (nysed.gov). Feel free to read through this document at your convenience.
As we learn more from NYSED, experience these Investigations, and encounter new questions, feedback, and ideas from local teachers and administrators, our understanding may shift slightly, causing tweaks* to our recommendations. I assure you that our recommendations come from the most professional judgement and serious considerations - and seem to be very much in congruence with NYSED's objectives.
The remainder of this article will be notes on the NYSED FAQs based on questions I’ve received, conversations I’ve had with both teachers and school leaders, and based on specifics for the C-A region. Links are provided to CA BOCES-made documents*. Upcoming workshops, directly related to the Required Investigations are listed at the end.
*CA BOCES Grade Level Alignment
The Elementary Investigation, "Cloud in a Bottle", is aligned with Grade 3 standards. However, it may be found that this Investigation will be too complex, and the reading level too high, for Grade 3 students. Within the Grade 5 Advancing STEM kit, "Models of the Earth", students do an activity exploring cloud formation, as they model how Earth's spheres interact (hydrosphere, geosphere, and atmosphere). Following this unit would be a great opportunity to administer the "Cloud in a Bottle" Investigation to Grade 5 students, instead of in Grade 3.
In addition to the CA BOCES Record-Keeping document, it is important to keep the Student Answer Packets and Rubric for each Investigation for each student. Although none of these items will be sent to NYSED (they will all be kept within the school building), these documents would be a good formative assessment artifact for any teacher that will be working with that student as they progress towards their summative NYS Science Assessment. These documents should all be sent with a student that may transfer out of the school district as evidence of completion, but also to assist any future teachers and districts in identifying student proficiency and/or remediation needs. These documents may be kept electronically.
Districts may put all of the Student Answer Packets into one booklet to follow the student for 3 years. It would be wise to also add the Record sheet at the front or back of this booklet. By next fall, CA BOCES print shop should have a form that streamlines the ordering process for these booklets.
Purpose of the Investigations
The purpose of the NYS Required Science Investigations is to provide another mode of formative assessment in science. In the past teachers have not had a built-in opportunity to identify areas of weakness in science until the NYS summative assessments (such as the Grade 4 or Grade 8 Science Assessments). The Required Investigations now give teachers an opportunity to determine if their students are meeting some of the NYS Science Learning Standards that are not as easy to assess on a written exam. Differently than the old standards, the new science standards ask students to use the skills that scientists use. A skills-based activity is the best way to assess this, as opposed to a written exam. Even so, the logistics of standardizing such a task are complicated across a very diverse state, and so the culminating, summative assessment for science is still a written exam, that will include questions that lean into assessing the students' understanding of such science skills. In addition to providing teachers with vital information to student growth in science, the Required Investigations also provide us with an opportunity to better prepare our students for the summative assessment: We know that 15% of the NYS Grade 5 and Grade 8 Science Exams will be related to these Investigations. Within our locus of control is the knowledge to prepare our students for a portion of that exam.
NYSED continues to recommend that these Investigations are administered as a classroom activity by their teacher as the students are learning the related content. The Required Investigations are not a test, but a set of activities to assure student hands-on experience in science and allow formative assessment of science skills at multiple grade levels. Please make sure that students (and teachers and you!) do not take on undue angst over these activities! They should be fun as students get to be active in their learning and figuring out their own understanding of our natural world.
Modifying NYSED Investigations Documents
A common question from local teachers has been about modifying student documents: Modifications can definitely be made to benefit the student as long as the integrity of the question is not lost. If modifications are to be made to the Student Directions or Student Answer Packets, teachers may do this prior to printing these materials for students. Some examples of modifying the documents:
Scaffolding and Accommodations for Students
Another common question is how much scaffolding, assistance, and support can be provided during these Investigations: Teacher assistance is encouraged, welcomed, and totally allowed. If it is something that a teacher would normally do as they taught a typical science lesson, they are welcome to do so during the Investigations. Teachers must keep in mind that although it may appear the vocabulary used in these Investigations is above their students, the wording comes from the NYS Science Learning Standards and could appear on the Grade 5 Science Assessment. Teachers can define or replace words in the student documents but will want to make sure their students are learning those words for the long-term. Other assistance that has been mentioned and is allowed, as long as the students are still authentically doing the science themselves, and fulfilling the objectives of the Investigation (teachers should regularly refer to the Rubric to decide this):
Accelerated Middle School Students
NYSED notes that all middle school students, including accelerated science students, are expected to complete all four Intermediate Required Investigations. This note reinforces the importance that Intermediate students should be exposed to all of the Grades 6-8 NYS Science Learning Standards at some point during their middle school years. Districts have often struggled with how to provide the opportunity for students to accelerate in science.
Please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org or 716-376-8285) if you would like to discuss the best way for your district to do this. As food for thought, my professional opinion would be to wait until the students are in 9th or 10th grade to double-up on their Regents science courses. If these are students that plan to take AP science courses in the future, two Regents courses will be good training to prepare them for that workload, and they will still have the full foundation of the middle school science program to support them.
Resources and Time for Science
Finally, NYSED fully supports more resources being put towards science instruction. These Investigations must be allotted appropriate time for the students to fully engage in the science skills being assessed, in addition to science instruction beyond these Investigations to support good science learning. Supplies and equipment, including some consumable materials, are also necessary to complete these Investigations. Thank you for investing in the initial construction of CA BOCES kits for this purpose. A notification will be sent as soon as the kits are complete. If teachers want to administer an Investigation before this time, please use the attached "Teachers Materials Lists" to identify items you may need to borrow before our kits are released.
News about HS Science Assessments from NYSED
Free Summer STEM Opportunities for Students
Appalachian STEM Academy at Oak Ridge is a residential, hands-on learning experience for 7th-9th grade students, as well as high school teachers in STEM-related fields. In an indoor/outdoor research environment, students will engage in creative problem solving as they design models and conduct short-term research projects alongside internationally recognized scientists. The application deadline is February 10th.
National Youth Science Camp is a residential science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) program designed to honor and challenge 11th-12th grade students by providing them with opportunities to engage with STEAM professionals and participate in exciting outdoor activities. The application deadline is February 28th.
On our CA BOCES workshop calendar are Required Science Investigations sessions over the next few months (March 16, April 12, and July 12). Principals are encouraged to attend with their teacher teams. For the weekend warrior, there is also a workshop at Buffalo State on March 4.
To learn more about the new NYS P-12 Science Learning Standards, please join the session on March 1.
Please contact me (email@example.com or 716-376-8285) for work with Teacher-Administrator teams to come up with the best solution for Required Investigations implementation at your district.
By: Kelli Grabowski, CA BOCES Learning Resources
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