Executive Summary

Assessment is a ubiquitous part of classroom life. Most exchanges between teacher and students are an occasion for considering the quality of student work. Often informal, assessment is a natural feature of teaching and learning whether or not it is so identified by teachers or students. A careful look at any classroom offers evidence of the intimate connection between teaching and assessment. It is at times difficult to separate the two.

In addition to the appraisals that are integrated into almost every teaching situation, there are the more formal assessments that also are part of ongoing classroom life and that most people think of first when asked about assessment: written or oral weekly quizzes, end-of-semester examinations, portfolios, and comments and grades on homework assignments. All these types of classroom assessment, the relatively formal and the less formal, are seen around the world as teachers work with students and as students work with each other.

Highlights of the findings in this report include the following:

  • Research shows that regular and high-quality assessment in the classroom can have a positive effect on student achievement.

  • The information generated must be used to inform the teacher and/or the students in deciding the next step. The results provide effective assessment to improve learning and teaching.

  • Student participation is a key component of successful assessment strategies at every step. If students are to participate effectively in the process, they need to be clear about the target and the criteria for good work, to assess their own efforts in light of the criteria, and to share responsibility in taking action in light of the feedback.

  • Teachers need time and assistance in developing accurate and dependable assessments. Much of this assistance can be provided by creating settings in which teachers



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Classroom Assessment and the National Science Education Standards Executive Summary Assessment is a ubiquitous part of classroom life. Most exchanges between teacher and students are an occasion for considering the quality of student work. Often informal, assessment is a natural feature of teaching and learning whether or not it is so identified by teachers or students. A careful look at any classroom offers evidence of the intimate connection between teaching and assessment. It is at times difficult to separate the two. In addition to the appraisals that are integrated into almost every teaching situation, there are the more formal assessments that also are part of ongoing classroom life and that most people think of first when asked about assessment: written or oral weekly quizzes, end-of-semester examinations, portfolios, and comments and grades on homework assignments. All these types of classroom assessment, the relatively formal and the less formal, are seen around the world as teachers work with students and as students work with each other. Highlights of the findings in this report include the following: Research shows that regular and high-quality assessment in the classroom can have a positive effect on student achievement. The information generated must be used to inform the teacher and/or the students in deciding the next step. The results provide effective assessment to improve learning and teaching. Student participation is a key component of successful assessment strategies at every step. If students are to participate effectively in the process, they need to be clear about the target and the criteria for good work, to assess their own efforts in light of the criteria, and to share responsibility in taking action in light of the feedback. Teachers need time and assistance in developing accurate and dependable assessments. Much of this assistance can be provided by creating settings in which teachers

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Classroom Assessment and the National Science Education Standards have opportunities to talk with one another about the quality of student work. The essential support for teachers (for example, time and opportunities to work with other teachers) can be created at the school level, but sometimes district and state-level resources are necessary. It is necessary to align assessment in the classroom with externally developed examinations, if the goals of science education are to be consistent and not confuse both teachers and students. At the very least, external examinations must not vitiate the goals of science education that are proffered in the National Science Education Standards (the Standards) (National Research Council [NRC], 1996). Although this report focuses on classroom assessments, these are not the only types of assessment that occur in the lives of students in school. To many, they are not even the most important ones. Much of the public attention to assessment is linked to the large-scale, standardized examinations that are developed, and usually scored, outside the classroom. These include state- or district-mandated tests, Advanced Placement examinations, the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT) and SAT II, the American College Testing Program (ACT), and less frequently, national and international tests, such as National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). These types of assessments occur much less frequently—often once a school year–and usually serve different purposes than the ongoing assessments made on a continuing basis by students and teachers. Each of these assessments is important—those that occur in daily classroom interactions among teachers and students, those set by teachers at the end of a particular phase in the work, and those developed and administered by external agencies. Together, they serve multiple purposes: to help students learn, to illustrate and articulate the standards for quality work, to inform teaching, to guide curriculum selection, to monitor programs, to provide a basis for reporting concrete accomplishments to interested parties, for accountability, among others. No one assessment serves or can serve all the possible or desired aims of gauging students ' knowledge and abilities, understanding the nature of their thinking, and supporting their learning. This report was conceived as an addendum to the Standards (NRC, 1996). In December 1995, the Standards were released as the result of an effort that began in 1991. At that time, the President of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and leaders from several other groups approached the Chairman of the

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Classroom Assessment and the National Science Education Standards National Research Council (NRC) with the request that the NRC coordinate the development of national standards for science education. For the next four years, committees of teachers, scientists, administrators, and teacher educators worked together to produce drafts of the Standards, which were then released for extensive review and comment. The result was a document that offers a broad vision for science education, including standards for teaching, professional development, assessment, content, programs, and systems. Although the Standards emphasize large-scale external testing and assessment as well as the types of assessment that occur regularly in the classroom, this document takes a closer look at the ongoing assessment that occurs each day in classrooms between teachers and students. The discussion encompasses a notion of assessment broader than testing; includes all of the activities for a student to reflect on and demonstrate their understandings, skills, and growth by describing the purposes they serve (and might serve); and illustrates how such assessments look in actual classrooms. There is research-based evidence that attention to this ongoing form of assessment, particularly formative assessment, is beneficial for student learning; and a framework for improving daily classroom assessment lays the foundation for what follows. The relationships between the assessment that teachers and students do daily and the summative assessments that often drive curriculum, instruction, and assessment are examined and discussed. Examples are provided of how these classroom assessments can be integrated into a comprehensive system of assessment, including externally developed standardized tests, both to improve the quality of student work and to make sounder and more complete judgments about student accomplishments. Finally, the document outlines some challenges to the entire educational system for teachers to be able to conduct the types of assessments in their own classrooms that result in students reaching the higher standards for learning and assessment proffered in the Standards. ORGANIZATION OF THE REPORT In preparation of this document, the goals set forth by the Committee on Science Education (COSE K-12) were to: articulate a research-based rationale for helping teachers improve classroom assessment; clarify the concept of effective classroom assessment; provide illustrations and guides to development and selection of assessment processes and tools; assist teacher educators and staff

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Classroom Assessment and the National Science Education Standards developers who will include assessment in their work with prospective and practicing teachers; and address issues that school and district decision makers face in their efforts to improve classroom assessment In response to this charge, this document is organized around six chapters: Chapter 1, An Introduction to Assessment in the Science Classroom, broadly outlines the rationale for the content covered in the guide. This chapter also lays the groundwork for serious attention to the types of assessment teachers and their students perform daily and their direct effect on improving learning. Chapter 2, The Case for Strengthening Assessment in the Science Classroom, provides a research base for the importance of understanding and improving the type of assessment in the classroom that improves learning and pays particular attention to the notion of formative assessment. Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 may be especially useful for classroom teachers as a guide for examining their practice. Chapter 3, Assessment in the Classroom, takes a closer look at the roles and responsibilities of teachers and students in improving assessment and offers a guiding framework for thinking about formative assessment. Chapter 3 and Chapter 5 relate directly to responsibilities of people in policy positions at school district, state, and national levels and, in particular, those who make decisions about the spectrum of assessment tools to be employed for accountability, for certifying student accomplishment, and for the improvement of teaching and learning. Chapter 4, The Relationship between Formative and Summative Assessment—In the Classroom and Beyond, addresses the tensions inherent in the different purposes and roles that teachers play in assessment and offers suggestions for how these tensions can be mitigated. In addition to teachers and administrators, professional-development specialists and teacher educators may want to focus on this chapter. Chapter 5, Professional Development, considers and illustrates the potential richness of the professional development of teachers when assessment is the cornerstone and suggests some features to consider when designing professional-development experiences. Chapter 6, Beyond the Classroom—System-Level Supports, proposes how programs and systems can support teachers and students in improving the classroom assessments to develop learning. Parents and community members also may be interested in this discussion about the broader system level.

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Classroom Assessment and the National Science Education Standards The document features a few vignettes of classroom activity wherein students and teachers are engaged in assessment. These vignettes are based on actual classroom experiences witnessed by committee members and other contributors to the report. The vignettes serve to illustrate key ideas in the text, not to represent idealized classroom scenarios. We hope that Classroom Assessment and the National Science Education Standards will be used by a variety of people with responsibility for improving science education. Although we recommend reading the entire document, we acknowledge that particular chapters may speak to, or are more relevant for, particular audiences. Thus, throughout the document, sidebars indicate to the reader the particular audience for whom the material within a chapter or section may be particularly relevant. Within chapters, readers will find references to examples and points made in other chapters. We also believe parents will find these chapters of special interest.

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