CCSSO Science Assessment Framework and Item Specifications Guidelines

Note: This WestEd project was completed in 2015.


As states are beginning to implement new science standards for K-12 students, they face major challenges developing aligned next-generation assessments. These challenges include measuring standards with a three-dimensional design, shifting to depth of understanding compared to breadth of content, and achieving acceptable coverage of standards.

To help states address these challenges, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) has facilitated a 14-state Science Assessment Item Collaborative to develop summative assessment items aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The first phase of this work focused on process documentation and prototype development.

Standards, Assessment, and Accountability Services at WestEd supported the Collaborative by producing the following guiding documentation that will be used by the 14 participating states — and are available publicly — to inform large-scale NGSS test and item development:

  • An Assessment Framework that includes the overall test design, description of an aligned test item cluster as the foundational unit of an NGSS-aligned assessment, specifications for various types of test items, and accessibility principles.
  • Item Specifications Guidelines that detail a model of NGSS item cluster specifications. The guidelines classify item types for consideration in an item cluster, identify key elements for each item cluster, and describe the linkage between item clusters and the NGSS. The document provides guidance for item-writing and item-review efforts.
  • Two Item Cluster Prototypes that will be used by the participating states to inform test item development. Each prototype includes a description of the cluster’s alignment to performance expectation targets, NGSS dimensions (i.e., Disciplinary Core Ideas [DCI], Science and Engineering Practices [SEP], and Crosscutting Concepts [CCC]), NGSS evidence statements, and a description of how the items are designed to function as a unit.

WestEd facilitated review cycles and prototype review committee meetings to ensure that participating states’ needs and expectations were met by the final documentation.

As a result of this work, states have been able to more clearly define their needs and expectations for NGSS large-scale assessments. This documentation has supported states in their ongoing efforts to address the challenges of alignment of items and development of test designs to measure student achievement for the NGSS.