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About the Assessment

EPA Phoenix is a problem-based performance assessment for middle school students that measures their ability to use Web technology and productivity tools to reason with information and communicate. It relies on students having some prior science knowledge about weather and pollution, but the assessment is not meant to measure their science achievement because the prior knowledge required is relatively simple and assumed to be familiar to the typical middle school student.

The EPA Phoenix task is about solving a problem. The premise of the problem is that a tri-state youth soccer league needs to find a new location for its championship games. The league needs a location that contains air that is not too polluted and a climate that is not too hot. The league is considering Phoenix, Arizona and wants the students to do research about Phoenix to see if it meets their criteria, then write a persuasive composition (e.g., report or presentation, depending on what productivity tool you select) with recommendations about Phoenix and specific evidence to support the recommendations. Items 1-16 involve information gathering and item 17 involves the writing.

Depending on your students' level of proficiency using the Web, you may choose to administer either the Level 1 student form or the Level 2 form. The Level 1 form contains more specific technical directions and is meant for students with less proficiency working with online resources. You are advised to compare and contrast the forms before making a decision.

The assessment should take most students approximately 2 hours to complete. Those who are either having difficulty or are trying to be very thorough may want more time. It is up to you to determine whether you want to impose a time limit. If you do, we recommend 60 minutes on Items 1-16 and 60 minutes on Item 17.

The assessment has been designed to measure student ability in three broad outcome areas: technology use, reasoning with information, and communication. The different tasks measure their different components, as listed below:

Use of technology

  • using an attribute-based query tool to find targeted information in a Web-based data base
  • formulating a targeted phrase-based Web search query
  • citing a URL
  • using clip graphics in a composition developed on the computer
  • manipulating a productivity tool interface to meet formatting requirements for a composition

Reasoning with Information

  • interpreting structure of Web-based charts
  • transferring appropriate information from one data representation (chart) to another (data table)
  • recognizing patterns of data in data tables
  • formulating an evidence-based conclusion from data
  • interpreting information on a Web-based map
  • analyzing information on a Web-based map
  • critically evaluating information on a Web-based map
  • interpreting information on a Web-based data table
  • finding relevant Web-based information
  • formulating and communicating an argument (i.e., an evidence-based conclusion from data)


  • formulating and communicating an argument (i.e., evidence-based conclusion from data)
  • displaying adequate organization in a written composition
  • displaying correct mechanics in a written composition

Some of the items are in a convergent response format and others call for a divergent response. Some convergent response items involve finding specific information. A multiple choice format is used when there is a chance that some students might misinterpret the driving question without being constrained by a limited set of answer choices. The divergent response items involve drawing conclusions and synthesizing information.

Responding Online or in Paper and Pencil

As explained on the IPAT home page (click "Home" in the links at the top) and in the directions for administering EPA Phoenix (click "administering the assessment" in the links at the top), you can administer EPA Phoenix online. If you are considering this, it is strongly advised that the students be proficient in computer keyboarding and manipulating multiple open windows on their computer desktops. Deficiencies in these areas will compromise the assessment's validity. For example, if a student does not understand how to open and close windows on her computer screen, her score might reflect that lack of technical competence rather than the proficiency the item is intended to measure (e.g. proficiency in relevant Web-based information).

Customizing EPA Phoenix

EPA Phoenix is not easily customizable because many of its items require that all students examine the same information sources. However, if you want to try, you can go to the EPA and the National Weather Service Web sites to look for comparable graphs, tables, and maps for other locations other than Phoenix.

If you encounter technical difficulties

If your students encounter technical problems that prevent them from accessing the EPA or National Weather Service Web pages required to do the EPA Phoenix assessment, bookmark or open on their computers a special IPAT Web page that links to back-up images from those pages. You can get to the backup images by clicking the "backup images" link above. The backup images allow students to do all the items except 14, 15, and 16 (which require phrase-based Web searching). If you are administering the Level 1 form and have to rely on the back-up images, make sure that your students ignore the detailed navigational directions that precede Items 1-6 (Part A of the assessment) and 12-13 (Part C of the assessment). Keep in mind that if the students use the back-up images for Part A, it makes no sense to score them on the rubric for Item 1, which diagnoses their ability to carry out specific attribute-based searches.


Update: The EPA no longer posts the PSI charts that are needed to complete the items in Part A. So instead, have your student use the back-up images of the three pollution charts to complete these items. If they are doing the Level 1 Form, have them ignore the detailed navigational directions that tell them how to access the charts on the EPA website.

© 2002 SRI International | Center for Technology in Learning