September 11, 2023

New Report Issues Urgent Call to Improve STEM Education Assessment

Experts identify key actions to enhance the quality and equity of STEM education.

As students head back to school, a new report from CADRE at EDC, a National Science Foundation-funded network, spotlights the urgent need to advance the use of effective, culturally responsive classroom-based assessment nationwide. Co-authored by leading experts, Classroom-Based STEM Assessment: Contemporary Issues and Perspectives describes current challenges and opportunities facing the field. On September 26  (1:30–2:30 ET), the authors will discuss the report’s implications and recommendations for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers during a national webinar.

The new report comes at a pivotal time for students and teachers in the United States. The 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) of U.S. students’ mathematics learning found the “largest declines in 4th and 8th grade achievement since assessment began.” Moreover, across grade levels and over the last 10 years, NAEP trend data has revealed significantly lower levels of proficiency for students from the following historically marginalized groups: students who are Native American/Alaska Native, Black, Hispanic, and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander; students who are eligible for the National School Lunch Program; students who are English learners; and students who have disabilities. The 2022 declines and consistent gaps spotlight serious challenges and inequities in our country’s current system of STEM education.

When the U.S. Department of Education released the NAEP results in June 2023, stories about the declines and achievement gaps filled the news. Yet the stories overlooked the powerful potential of STEM teachers’ ongoing, skillful use of classroom-based assessment, including formative assessment, to enhance the quality and equity of K–12 STEM instruction and ensure all students thrive.

CADRE at EDC report’s recommendations provide a detailed road map to increase the effective use of classroom-enhanced assessment. Among their recommendations, lead authors Drs. Christopher J. Harris, Eric Wiebe, Shuchi Grover, and James W. Pellegrino highlight four essential actions that the United States should take now to address achievement gaps and advance equity in STEM education:

1. Conduct R&D to determine how to design classroom-based assessments that capture multiple ways of knowing in STEM disciplines and honor students’ cultural practices and funds of knowledge.
2. Put perspectives of equity and justice at the center of curriculum, instruction, and assessment design and practice.
3. Engage designers, educators, learners, and communities in collaborative work to build assessments that center equity and justice.
4. Embrace a wide and inclusive view of what constitutes historically minoritized populations—including not only racial and ethnic cultural diversity, but also physical diversity and neurodiversity.

The authors identify investments that are key to classroom-based assessment, including:

  • Invest in assessment R&D: The authors assert that while “substantial progress has been made in integrating assessment with STEM teaching and learning, many critical issues remain.” They call for “an ambitious, multidisciplinary agenda” of R&D to identify ways to better measure learning and support instruction in contemporary classrooms across STEM disciplines.
  • Invest in new assessment technologies: The authors spotlight the importance of “leveraging emerging technologies to unlock the full potential of classroom-based assessment.” Rather than using technology to automate existing approaches to assessment, they urge for investment in and use of technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) “to empower teachers and students to use assessments in new and innovative ways.”
  • Invest in teachers: The authors note that teachers are “very familiar with using assessment for grading purposes and far less familiar with using assessment to improve teaching and learning.” They call for professional learning to build teachers’ capacity to effectively use classroom-based assessments, assessment data, and technology to tailor instruction for students and improve student learning outcomes.

The report also features a review of advances in K–12 education STEM assessment led by teams of researchers funded by the NSF’s Discovery Research PreK-12 program and supported by CADRE at EDC.

“We deeply appreciate the vision and expertise shared by the report’s distinguished authors, as well as the contributions of CADRE’s full committee on classroom-based assessment,” said Catherine McCulloch, the director of CADRE at EDC. “The report promises to be a touchstone for educators, policymakers, and researchers navigating the evolving landscape of 21st-century education.”

Learn more about EDC’s work to improve the quality and equity of STEM education.