Science Depth-of-Knowledge Levels

Please note that, in science, “knowledge” can refer both to content knowledge and knowledge of science processes. This meaning of knowledge is consistent with the National Science Education Standards (NSES), which terms “Science as Inquiry” as its first Content Standard.

Level 1 (Recall and Reproduction) is the 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. Some examples that represent but do not constitute all of Level 1 performance are:

    • Recall or recognize a fact, term, or property.
    • Represent in words or diagrams a scientific concept or relationship.
    • Provide or recognize a standard scientific representation for simple phenomenon.
    • Perform a routine procedure such as measuring length.

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. Some examples that represent, but do not constitute all of Level 2 performance, are:

    • Specify and explain the relationship between facts, terms, properties, or variables.
    • Select a procedure according to specified criteria and perform it.
    • Formulate a routine problem given data and conditions.
    • Organize, represent and interpret data.
    • Describe and explain examples and non-examples of science concepts.

Level 3 (Strategic Thinking) requires 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 observations; citing evidence and developing a logical argument for concepts; explaining phenomena in terms of concepts; and using concepts to solve non-routine problems. Some examples that represent, but do not constitute all of Level 3 performance, are:

    • Identify research questions and design investigations for a scientific problem.
    • Solve non-routine problems.
    • Develop a scientific model for a complex situation.
    • Form conclusions from experimental data.

Level 4 (Extended Thinking) tasks have high cognitive demands and are 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 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. Some examples that represent but do not constitute all of a Level 4 performance are:

    • Based on provided data from a complex experiment that is novel to the student, deduct the fundamental relationship between several controlled variables.
    • Conduct an investigation, from specifying a problem to designing and carrying out an experiment, to analyzing its data and forming conclusions.

Source: Depth-of-Knowledge Levels for Four Content Areas/Norman L. Webb/March 28, 2002