from the field

By Jessica L. Sawko

The new California Science Test

What board members need to know


his spring, schools with students enrolled in fifth grade, eighth grade and high school will administer the first operational version of the new California Science Test (CAST) to assess students’ understanding of science. The testing follows the framework of the innovative California Next Generation Science Standards, commonly known as CA NGSS.


The CAST, along with the California Alternate Assessment — Science, will be important in measuring if implementation of the CA NGSS is on track and aiding in preparing students for college and career in the 21st century.

In May 2016, the State Board of Education voted to include NGSS-based assessment results in the California School Dashboard when the data from the assessments are available and determined to be valid and reliable. However, that determination could delay the CAST results from appearing on the Dashboard for another three to five years. The California Science Teachers Association, Children Now, the California STEM Network and many other organizations, including CSBA, are asking the State Board of Education to add a placeholder for the CAST to the Dashboard now. Local educational agencies are continually engaged in planning and budgeting activities, including the development of the three-year Local Control and Accountability Plans that reflect their educational priorities and drive resource allocation. These plans are usually formed with an eye toward the things for which they will be held accountable — the elements identified on the Dashboard. The absence of science as a state-level, academic indicator means that science can and has been overlooked in the planning process. A clear demarcation on the Dashboard that it will eventually include CAST results will help focus LEAs on building the infrastructure for success in science and foster the inclusion of funding and implementation planning for NGSS within their LCAPs and budgets.

In the coming weeks, data, in the form of preliminary indicators from the 2018 CAST field test and the CAA-Science Year 2 Pilot will be made available to LEAs and the public. Student results provided to parents will include a percent correct score and a category description. How to share these results is the responsibility of the LEA. The assessment result data will also be available to the public and aggregated by student groups and by state, county, LEA and school levels. The assessments that these results are derived from are not yet operational, therefore caution should be used when interpreting them. These results can be used to form a general impression that schools have made in implementing CA NGSS, which in turn, can inform implementation planning and efforts.

About the standards

The California Next Generation Science Standards, adopted in the fall of 2013, are written in the form of Performance Expectations and include the three-dimensions of science: Disciplinary Core Ideas, Science and Engineering Practices and Crosscutting Concepts. They call for a new approach to science teaching and learning, are based on research about how students best learn science, and provide students with the foundational knowledge, skills and understanding to prepare them for career, college and citizenship in the 21st century. The CA NGSS promote critical thinking and lead students to deeper understanding and improved outcomes in science and across other core subjects. They also can remove barriers to learning for kids in underserved communities, by encouraging their innate curiosity and making education more relevant to their lives — thus reducing opportunity gaps for girls and Latino, African-American and low-income students.

While developed collaboratively by 26 lead states from across the country, the standards received a large volume of input and review by California teachers and scientists. To date, 39 states have either adopted the Next Generation Science Standards or similar standards based on the same Framework for K-12 Science Education. For more information about the standards, visit the National Science Teachers Association’s website at For a complete timeline of events relating to the development and chronology of activities associated with the implementation of the standards in California, visit the California Science Teachers Association website at

About the test

With new standards come new assessments. In the case of science, this includes statewide summative assessments, the CAST and the CAA-Science, as well as classroom assessments developed by teachers to assess student learning and inform daily instruction. The CAST and CAA-Science will be taken by students in grades five and eight as well as by high school students. The CAST is designed as a grade-span assessment, with the fifth-grade assessment covering grades three through five, including foundational concepts addressed in K-2; the eighth-grade assessment spanning performance expectations from grades 6-8; and the high school assessment covering all high school performance expectations. The CAST is a computer-based assessment that includes a variety of item types. The CAA-Science (operational in 2019–20), designed for students with significant cognitive disabilities, is a classroom-embedded assessment consisting of performance tasks.

What is needed to support implementation?

The effort to implement CA NGSS-based instruction will require extensive strategic planning and progressive investments to build the infrastructure necessary to deliver this transformative education to all students. There are currently a variety of tools and resources to support planning for and the implementation of the new standards. In 2016, the state adopted a new Science Curriculum Framework. This framework provides guidance on various aspects of implementing the new standards and is designed to for use by teachers, administrators and other education leaders. This November, the State Board of Education will adopt new instructional materials for science K-8. At the beginning of 2019, county offices of education will begin to offer training opportunities to LEAs on how to review and select instructional materials designed to support the new standards. These training opportunities will include support for all grade levels.

Investment in teacher professional development cannot be overemphasized. These standards represent a significant shift in the approach to teaching science. They are also designed to build knowledge and understanding year-over-year, meaning teaching science every year of school, beginning in kindergarten, is crucial.

Standards implementation done well is an intentional, well-planned, multiyear and multifaceted process. Much has been learned and is still being learned from Common Core language arts and math implementation that can and should be applied to efforts to implement the new science standards. However, implementing these standards presents unique challenges that must be addressed; many of these will need to be addressed at the local level. The state has taken and will take several actions to support implementation efforts. Inclusion of a place holder for science on the Dashboard is one of the actions that should be taken this year in order to support planning and investment in implementing the CA NGSS.

Jessica L. Sawko is the executive director of the California Science Teachers Association.


CSBA Governance Brief Supporting the California Next Generation Science Standards:

California Schools magazine, spring 2017, A New Formula for Science Success in California Classrooms

EdSource Commentary: New science test must be part of California’s school accountability system:

CDE’s CAST Webpage:

California’s NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative:

CDE’s Preliminary Indicator Webpage: