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Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning
can be affected by linguistic issues (such as the omission of certain letters or sounds that are unknown in a native language), cultural influences (different ways of interpreting a question), and the degree of familiarity with English (whether at a social or academic level). Certain patterns of difficulties emerge among students who are learning English, and a knowledge of these patterns can help make assessments more accurate.
The most comprehensive assessment systems include a variety of instruments. For example, the system developed by the New Standards Project has three interrelated components: performance standards, examinations, and portfolios (New Standards, 1997). The performance standards translate the NationalScience Education Standards into statements that indicate the kinds of activities through which students could demonstrate competence in a standard. These standards also include examples of student work with commentary that explains what aspects of the work illustrate the standard and why it is appropriate for that grade level. The examinations use a combination of selected and constructed response items, including hands-on performance tasks, to yield scores in (1) conceptual understanding, (2) scientific thinking: design and acquisition of knowledge, (3) scientific thinking: analysis and evidence, and (4) life, earth, and physical sciences. The portfolio system includes exhibits for conceptual understanding, scientific thinking, tools and communication, and investigation. Having different exhibits highlights the different types of evidence that need to be presented for these qualitatively different types of standards.
The expectation for quality in the portfolio is higher than the expectation on the exam, as adequate time, feedback, and opportunity for revision are in place for the former. Some of the performance standards, such as working productively in a group, can best be assessed by teacher observation, so certification forms for such expectations are included in the portfolio. Successful implementation depends on the development of a cadre of teachers who are experienced in scoring against a standards-based rubric and on an abundance of examples of standards-setting work from a diverse range of students.
A similar system of multiple formats has been employed in California for several years by the Golden State Exam in High School Biology, Chemistry, and Integrated Science. The examination includes multiple choice items, constructed response items, and laboratory performance tasks. The portfolio is optional and thus is used only to improve a student’s score, not to lower it.