develop possible explanations, design and conduct investigations, and use data as evidence to support or reject their own explanations. At the broadest level, it measures the capacity of students to evaluate the kinds of questions that scientists investigate, understand the purposes of investigations, and assess the qualities of data, explanations, and arguments.
Assessment can take many forms in inquiry-based classrooms, and it serves many purposes. Assessments can range from the questions teachers ask during a lesson to end-of-unit tests and statewide and national examinations. Assessment data can be used to plan a lesson, guide a student’s learning, calculate grades, determine access to special programs, inform policy, allocate resources, or evaluate the quality of a curriculum or instruction. In the breadth of its application, assessment merges seamlessly into considerations of the curriculum and teaching.
An important distinction needs to be made between formative assessment and summative assessment. Formative assessments can occur at any time and are used to influence a teacher’s plans to meet specific student learning experiences and needs. Summative assessments typically occur at the end of a learning activity to determine its impact on student learning.
The vignettes in the previous chapter included many examples of formative assessments. For example, Ms. Flores asked her students where they might find worms and how they could build homes for their worms. Mr. Gilbert listened as his students constructed their models of the earth-moon-sun system and asked questions to assess and further their understanding. Similarly, Mr. Hull observed his students’ drawings of forces to gauge their understanding. In general, teachers in inquiry-based classrooms are continually assessing to know what to do next, what abilities are developing, which are still underdeveloped, and whether the objectives of a particular lesson or unit are being achieved.
Formative assessments are important for general planning and guidance, but they generally are too informal and insufficiently documented to answer many of the hard questions posed by parents, principals, and teachers: What have students actually learned? What evidence demonstrates that they are learning? How well are they learning it, and at what level of competence?
Formative assessments also are not sufficient to support high-stakes decisions about an individual or changes in policy or professional development designs. Such decisions require summative assessments that provide evidence to parents, teachers, and policy-makers that a student or class is progressing toward meeting the standards for inquiry or falling