Five themes are the focus for the discussion of advances in the sciences of thinking and learning in this chapter:

  • Theories of learning and knowing have expanded substantially over the last 100 years. We briefly describe those shifts and their impact on assessment practices.

  • Current understanding of the nature of learning and knowledge details various fundamental components of the structures, processes, and contents of the human mind. Consideration is given to each of these components and their significance for understanding and assessing human knowledge and performance.

  • A hallmark of contemporary cognitive science is the study of how expertise is acquired in particular subject domains. The features of expertise are considered, together with research on the acquisition of expertise. We also examine those aspects of children’s development and learning that relate to the acquisition of subject matter expertise and that have implications for instruction and assessment.

  • Empirically based models of student knowledge and learning have been developed for multiple curricular areas. Examples are provided of detailed models that have been directly employed to support innovative instructional and assessment practices in specific academic domains.

  • The cognitive sciences are founded on rigorous empirical study of both simple and complex forms of cognition. Various methods of observation and inference used in the cognitive sciences to probe the nature of thinking are discussed because of their relevance to issues regarding the design of assessment tasks and methods of inference about what students know.

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