Depth of Knowledge (DOK) Levels for Science
The NECAP Science Assessment assesses Depth of Knowledge Levels 1, 2, and 3. While it may be possible to assess the extended response (ER) task for inquiry at a Depth of Knowledge of Level 4, time and materials constraints of the on-demand testing setting prohibit this. Four DOK levels are included herein for illustration purposes, with general definitions for each of the Depth of Knowledge levels followed by Table 2, which provides further specification and sample descriptions for each of the DOK levels for science.

Descriptors of DOK Levels for Science (based on Webb, 1997 and March 2002 and TIMSS Science Assessment Framework, 2003)

Level 1 Recall and Reproduction requires recall of information, such as a fact, definition, term, or a simple procedure, as well as performing a simple science process or procedure. Level 1 only requires students to demonstrate a rote response, use a well-known formula, follow a set procedure (like a recipe), or perform a clearly defined series of steps. A “simple” procedure is well-defined and typically involves only one-step. Verbs such as “identify,” “recall,” “recognize,” “use,” “calculate,” and “measure” generally represent cognitive work at the recall and reproduction level. Simple word problems that can be directly translated into and solved by a formula are considered Level 1. Verbs such as “describe” and “explain” could be classified at different DOK levels, depending on the complexity of what is to be described and explained.

A student answering a Level 1 item either knows the answer or does not: that is, the answer does not need to be “figured out” or “solved.” In other words, if the knowledge necessary to answer an item automatically provides the answer to the item, then the item is at Level 1. If the knowledge necessary to answer the item does not automatically provide the answer, the item is at least at Level 2.

Level 2 Skills and Concepts includes the engagement of some mental processing beyond recalling or reproducing a response. The content knowledge or process involved is more complex than in level 1. Items require students to make some decisions as to how to approach the question or problem. Keywords that generally distinguish a Level 2 item include “classify,” “organize,” ”estimate,” “make observations,” “collect and display data,” and “compare data.” These actions imply more than one step. For example, to compare data requires first identifying characteristics of the objects or phenomenon and then grouping or ordering the objects. Level 2 activities include making observations and collecting data; classifying, organizing, and comparing data; and organizing and displaying data in tables, graphs, and charts.

Some action verbs, such as “explain,” “describe,” or “interpret,” could be classified at different DOK levels, depending on the complexity of the action. For example, interpreting information from a simple graph, requiring reading information from the graph, is a Level 2. An item that requires interpretation from a complex graph, such as making decisions regarding features of the graph that need to be considered and how information from the graph can be aggregated, is at Level 3.

Level 3 Strategic Thinking requires deep knowledge using reasoning, planning, using evidence, and a higher level of thinking than the previous two levels. The cognitive demands at Level 3 are complex and abstract. The complexity does not result only from the fact that there could be multiple answers, a possibility for both Levels 1 and 2, but because the multi-step task requires more demanding reasoning. In most instances, requiring students to explain their thinking is at Level 3; requiring a very simple explanation or a word or two should be at Level 2. An activity that has more than one possible answer and requires students to justify the response they give would most likely be a Level 3. Experimental designs in Level 3 typically involve more than one dependent variable. Other Level 3 activities include drawing conclusions from ; citing evidence and developing a logical argument for concepts; explaining phenomena in terms of concepts; and using concepts to solve non-routine problems.

Level 4 Extended Thinking requires high cognitive demand and is very complex. Students are required to make several connections—relate ideas within the content area or among content areas—and have to select or devise one approach among many alternatives on how the situation can be solved. Many on-demand assessment instruments will not include any assessment activities that could be classified as Level 4. However, standards, goals, and objectives can be stated in such a way as to expect students to perform extended thinking. “Develop generalizations of the results obtained and the strategies used and apply them to new problem situations,” is an example of a Grade 8 objective that is a Level 4. Many, but not all, performance assessments and open-ended assessment activities requiring significant thought will be at a Level 4.

Level 4 requires complex reasoning, experimental design and planning, and probably will require an extended period of time either for the science investigation required by an objective, or for carrying out the multiple steps of an assessment item. However, the extended time period is not a distinguishing factor if the required work is only repetitive and does not require applying significant conceptual understanding and higher-order thinking. For example, if a student has to take the water temperature from a river each day for a month and then construct a graph, this would be classified as a Level 2 activity. However, if the student conducts a river study that requires taking into consideration a number of variables, this would be a Level 4.

Source: RIDE Website


A representation of more generic academic tasks organized by Depth of Knowledge is shown below.

How are Webb's DOK used to develop NECAP Inquiry Items?