State Science Assessment - Useful Information


By April Beck-Friends

In addition to Language Arts and Math, 5th and  8th grade students participating in state testing will also participate in the Science test known as the Washington Comprehensive Assessment of Science – WCAS. This is a one day test.


In the past 12 years as a STEM teacher (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math), I have been pleased with the progression of state Science assessments from primarily fact based questioning to questioning primarily scientific inquiry or engineering application of today.

For example, students may be given an engineering problem and asked to come up with a solution. For example, “Design a lunar landing device”. The best way to do this is to apply one or all of the steps of the ENGINEERING DESIGN PROCESS.  They may also be given a Scientific Question, such as “Does the type of soil affect the growth of a plant?” and are expected to go through one or all of the steps of the SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION PROCESS, also known as the Scientific Method. Students are expected to know what these are.

The best advice I can give parents is to familiarize or reinforce these PROCESSES with your students. Then, I encourage you to allow your students to apply these processes with a variety of activities.

Below I have listed the steps of each process,  informative links, and in addition, some application exercises which could be adapted to various grade levels.

I have also included the following information parents may find interesting:

  • WCAS Information & Features
  • Next Generation Science Standards




Real Life Learning

  1. ASK:  Students identify the problem, requirements that must be met, and constraints that must be considered.
  2. IMAGINE: Students brainstorm solutions and research ideas.  They also identify what others have done.
  3. PLAN: Students choose two to three of the best ideas from their brainstormed list and sketch possible designs, ultimately choosing a single design to prototype.
  4. CREATE: Students build a working model, or prototype that aligns with design requirements and that is within design constraints.
  5. TEST: Students evaluate the solution through testing; they collect and analyze data; they summarize strengths and weaknesses of their design that were revealed during testing.
  6. IMPROVE:  Based on the results of their tests, students make improvements on their design. They also identify changes they will make and justify their revisions.

A Closer Look:  Engineering Design Process – View this informative video series on how NASA applies this process. Watch each short (1 ½ min) video (8 in all). To understand the process. Then go to the Activity page and try one out for yourself, using the Engineering Design Process.


NASA Films on the steps of the Engineering Design Process

Now you are ready to apply this by choosing one of these fun activities on the following pages:

NASA Student Beginning Engineering Activities

STEM for Kids, 7 Engineering Activities 




Asking Questions – Seeking Answers

  1. Ask a Question: The scientific method starts when you ask a question about something that you observe: How, What, When, Who, Which, Why, or Where? In order for the scientific method to answer the question it must be about something that you can measure, preferably with a number. 
  2. Construct a Hypothesis: A hypothesis is a testable explanation for a specific problem or question based on what has already been learned. Making a forecast of what will happen in the future based on past experience or evidence is called a prediction. A good example:  "If we test _____, then I think______, because_____.” You must state your hypothesis in a way that you can easily measure, and of course, your hypothesis should be constructed in a way to help you answer your original question.  A hypothesis is not to be confused with a theory. A well-tested or possible explanation for a wide range of observations or experimental results (facts) is called a theory.  Some examples:  Darwin’s Theory, Continental Drift Theory, Einstein's theory of relativity.
  3. Determine the variable to be tested: You must start your experiment by first deciding on the variable to be tested. It is important for your experiment to be a fair test. You conduct a fair test by making sure that you change only one variable at a time while keeping all other conditions the same. An independent or manipulated variable is the one whose value you change in order to see the output as a result of such change. The dependent or responding variable responds to the change made to the independent variable. Controlled variables are quantities that a scientist wants to remain constant.
  4. Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment: Your experiment tests whether your hypothesis is right or wrong. You should also repeat your experiments several times to make sure that the first results weren't just an accident. 
  5. Materials List: Make a list of all your materials in the order that you use them. The most important thing to mention is the measuring tool.  How are you going to measure your data?
  6. Experimental Procedure: Write detailed step-by-step directions.  Make sure they are numbered and in order. Add all the items from your material list as you write these directions.
  7. Analyze Your Data: Once your experiment is complete, you collect your measurements and analyze them to see if your hypothesis is right or wrong. Display your data with illustrations, graphs, etc.  Make sure the display proves the results of your experiment. 
  8. Draw a Conclusion: To complete the experiment, communicate your results by answering the investigative question, summarizing the procedure and data, USE THE DATA IN YOUR CONCLUSION. Then state whether your hypothesis was right or wrong.  “I accept my hypothesis, because…” or “I reject my hypothesis, because….”Use complete sentences. Take some time on this part.  A good conclusion includes every part of the experiment.

What is a Scientific Investigation?

Kahn Academy  - More information about the Scientific Method



The WCAS – The Washington Comprehensive Assessment of Science

  • Was administered for the first time in spring 2018. The assessments fulfill the federal requirement that students be tested once in science at each level: elementary, middle, and high school.
  • Is online in grades 5, 8, and 11.
  • Assesses the Washington State 2013 K-12 Science Learning Standards (Next Generation Science Standards).
  • The WCAS requires approximately the same testing times as previous state science assessments: 90 minutes for grade 5, 110 minutes in grade 8, and 120 minutes in grade 11.
  • The WCAS is administered like Smarter Balanced assessments so students are allowed to attempt the WCAS over multiple days.
  • Students in grade 11 are required to take the WCAS. This is due to the federal requirement (ESSA) that we test and report the results of current state science assessment once each school year in elementary, middle, and high school.


WCAS Features:

  • Assesses all three dimensions of the learning standards (Science and Engineering Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas, Crosscutting Concepts).
  • Consists of several item clusters (items associated to common stimuli) and standalone items.
  • Requires approximately the same testing time as previous state science assessments.
  • Uses the same online engine as the Smarter Balanced assessments. For item clusters, stimuli will appear on left side of screen, with associated items on the right side. Standalone items will occupy the entire screen.
  • Has some clusters with more than one stimulus. The first stimulus is collapsed when the second stimulus is provided. Both stimuli are available to the student.
  • Has some locking items where the student cannot change their answer once they have moved on to the next item. This allows subsequent items to update the student with correct information. An “attention” box warns the student that they will not be able to change their answer once they move on, and gives the student a chance to return to the item and change their answer.
  • Includes a variety of item types:
    • Selected Response-multiple choice, multiple select
    • Technology Enhanced-ex: drag and drop, drop-down choices, simulations, graphing
    • Constructed Response-ex: equation builder, short answer
  • Includes multi-part items:
    • Parts labeled with letters A, B, and C.
    • May have a mix of item types.  May ask for evidence to support an answer from a previous part of the item.





Through a collaborative, state-led process, new K–12 science standards have been developed that are rich in content and practice and arranged in a coherent manner across disciplines and grades to provide all students an internationally benchmarked science education.

Composed of 3 Dimensions 

Next Generation Science Standards Overview Video

Bozeman Video Series on NGSS – Everything you’d want to know+




Have more questions? Submit a request