behind. Such assessments require more standardized instruments and a way of recording student responses, whether a test, interview protocol, or observation guide for a performance assessment. Stable, quantifiable ways of converting student responses to numbers and averages can better support accountability decisions.

The results of summative assessments of student learning can take many forms, from descriptions of individual achievement to formal comparisons across time or with other students. For example, Mr. Gilbert assigned a take-home exam at the end of his session on phases of the moon in which he asked students to summarize all of their evidence that supported or refuted their understanding of the phases of the moon. Ms. Idoni assigned as a final assessment a report describing how each student would investigate an unexpected phenomenon in the lake they had studied. In general, the results of such assessments need to be presented in such a way that they can be summarized and compared with other evidence so that judgments can be made.

This chapter describes features of classroom assessments that support inquiry and the National Science Education Standards. It first discusses the “what” — what are students supposed to know, understand, and be able to do as a result of their education in science. It then discusses “who” should be responsible for various aspects of assessment activities, with a particular focus on students. Finally, it looks at “how”— the formats and procedures of assessment.


The three learning outcomes of inquiry-based education involve both knowledge and understanding. The Standards define these two terms as follows:

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