The students have an opportunity to reflect on and demonstrate their thinking. By trying to identify their sources of evidence, the teacher better understands where their difficulties arise and can alter their teaching accordingly and lead the students toward better understanding of the concept.
As another example, a planning session about future science projects in which the students work in small groups on different topic issues leads to a discussion about the criteria for judging the work quality. This type of assessment discussion, which occurs before an activity even starts, has a powerful influence on how the students conduct themselves throughout the activity and what they learn. During a kindergarten class discussion to plan a terrarium, the teacher recognizes that one of the students confuses rocks for living organisms and yet another seems unclear about the basic needs of plants. So the conversation is turned toward these topics to clarify these points. In this case, classroom teaching is reshaped immediately as a result of assessments made of the students' understanding.
Abundant assessment opportunities exist in each of these examples. Indeed, Hein and Price (1994) assert that anything a student does can be used for assessment purposes. This means there is no shortage of opportunities, assessment can occur at any time. One responsibility of the teacher is to use meaningful learning experiences as meaningful assessment experiences. Another is to select those occasions particularly rich in potential to teach something of importance about standards for high-quality work. To be effective as assessment that improves teaching and learning, the information generated from the activity must be used to inform the teacher and/or students in helping to decide what to do next. In such a view, assessment becomes virtually a continuous classroom focus, quite indistinguishable from teaching and curriculum.
The Standards convey a view of assessment and learning as two sides of the same coin and essential for all students to achieve a high level of understanding in science. To best support their students' learning, teachers are continuously engaged in ongoing assessments of the learning and teaching in their classroom. An emphasis on formative assessment—assessment that informs teaching and learning and occurs throughout an activity or unit—is incorporated into regular practice. Furthermore, teachers cultivate this integrated view of teaching, learning, and continuous assessment among their students. When formative assessment becomes an integral part of classroom practice, student achievement is enhanced (Black & Wiliam, 1998a; Crooks, 1988; Fuchs & Fuchs, 1986). However, as discussed in the previous chapter, research also indicates that this type of assessment often is not recognized as significant by teachers, principals, parents, or the general public, and is seldom articulated or featured as a priority. Box 3-1 provides definitions for “formative” and “summative,” which pertain to the two main functions that assessment can take.