Are the assessment activities similar in relevant ways to the learning activities? At the Cell Lab stations, the process of doing the activity also served as an assessment of how well the participants understood the point of the experiment and how to interpret their results. Designing activities that can also serve as an assessment tool works particularly well in informal settings. This process is referred to as embedded, or authentic, assessment, and is currently seen as one of the most appropriate forms for assessing informal experiences since assessment and experience align and therefore guarantee a high degree of validity.
Are the assessments based on the same social norms as those that promote engagement in the learning activities? For example, in assessing WolfQuest, the researchers used an online forum for assessment, which matched the nature of the activity. Social norms can easily be violated when using traditional assessment systems based on school-like testing procedures and measures. Testing participants individually when the experience was meant to be shared or assessing by using skills that should not be assumed (as in verbal skills or written skills) are examples of ways that the validity of the assessment could be threatened.
Is it clear that the learners have had ample opportunity to both learn and demonstrate desired outcomes? The teens working with young children at the homeless shelter in St. Louis (Chapter 3) illustrated how, over time, they not only learned relevant science content but also could demonstrate their new learning in multiple ways. However, it would have been inappropriate to assess the teens using a typical written exam, because they did not have the opportunities to learn or to demonstrate their competence in a similar form.
Recognizing the challenge of developing appropriate, measurable, and valid impacts for informal experiences for learning science, the National Science Foundation (NSF) developed a set of impact categories that can be used to help guide planning, assessment, and evaluation of projects.5 The impact categories are as follows with connections to the six strands identified where appropriate:
Knowledge. Similar to Strand 2 (understanding scientific content and knowledge), this impact refers to knowledge, awareness, or understanding that visi-