As educators, we know that science is not just a body of knowledge, but it is a process that enables people to answer questions through scientific inquiry. Scientists conduct inquiries using a specific toolbox of skills and knowledge that the Next Generations Science Standards (NGSS) has spelled out for emerging scientists as so-called “science and engineering practices,” or practices that increase in complexity and sophistication across grade levels.
These are important skills for students to master, not least because of the growing demand for science and STEM professionals. Here in California, like other states nationwide, the STEM job market is rapidly growing but students are still graduating without the skills and knowledge needed to fill these high-paying jobs. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that California will have the largest STEM workforce in the country by 2022.
The question is, how do you ensure students are graduating with these skills in a way that sets them up for future college and career success?
It was in with that question in mind, with support from the Escondido community and business leaders, that Del Lago Academy (DLA) opened in 2013 with the purpose of creating a school-to college and career pipeline connecting local students to STEM related careers within our region in southern California. DLA was designed around a core academic program that engages students in real-world learning that better prepares them for success in college and career in this high-demand, fast-growing field.
During the last three years, the DLA science department has worked hard to make learning social, emotional, and linked to the science-based internships that our scholars access during 11th and 12th grade. (We began referring to our students as scholars, because we expected that they take an active approach to their education, and participate in interdisciplinary project-based learning, and internships.) But there was still concern from our science teachers that we weren’t doing enough to ensure scholars were able to transfer skills and knowledge from the laboratory setting, to to apply them in real-world settings and scenarios.
To address this challenge, we began brainstorming ideas about how to advance assessment to better promote success in these internships and students’ future college and career experiences. With support from the Next Generation Learning Challenges and the Assessment for Learning Project, we developed a competency-based assessment approach called Competency X, which is personalized for our learners and results in digital badges that are validated by local industry and college partners to prepare them for internships and post-secondary work.
So, how do we do it?
Collaborating with partners
To make Competency X a success, it was vital that we know which foundational science-based skills industry partners seek in employees and interns. We co-created the badges in a Summer Workshop with teachers, scholars, and industry and college partners who collaborated to ensure that scholars are focused on the most important skills, knowledge, and dispositions for success. Together, we identified high-demand and foundational science-based skills. For example, dispositions like humility, independence, and persistence were proposed alongside more traditional science-based practices in NGSS like analyzing data or engaging in argument. We used this rich information, as well as teacher proposed learning progressions on science and engineering practices to build digital badges that validate mastery of skills and practices.