Now, consider the assessment in the two vignettes in light of the following three guiding questions: Where are you trying to go? Where are you now? How can you get there?


Clear Criteria

The goals articulated in the Standards arise from their emphasis on the active nature of science and their stress on the range of activities that encompass what it means to do science and to understand both specific concepts and the subject area as a whole. Thus, the Standards advocate going beyond the coverage of basic facts to include skills and thought processes, such as the ability to ask questions, to construct and test explanations of phenomena, to communicate ideas, to work with data and use evidence to support arguments, to apply knowledge to new situations and new questions, to problem solve and make decisions, and to understand history and nature of scientific knowledge (NRC, 1996). To best assist students in their science learning, assessment should attend to these many facets of learning, including content understanding, application, processes, and reasoning.

In his book on classroom assessment for teachers, Stiggins (2001) writes,

The quality of any assessment depends first and foremost on the clarity and appropriateness of our definitions of the achievement target to be assessed...We cannot assess academic achievement effectively if we do not know and understand what that valued target is. (p. 19)

As Stiggins states, it is important that teachers have clear performance criteria in mind before they assess student work and responses. Ms. R's guidelines included attention to both: she expected her students to demonstrate an understanding of concepts of sound, such as causes of pitch, as well as the nature of technology. Before the students engaged in the assessment, Ms. R had outlined how she would evaluate the student responses in each area.

Clarity about the overall goals is only a first step. Given that goals are clear, the teacher has to help the students achieve greater clarity. This usually entails identification of somewhat discrete stages that will help the students to understand what is required to move toward the goal. These intermediate steps often emerge as the study progresses, often in lesson design and planning but also on the spot in the classroom as information about the students' levels of understanding become clearer, new special interests become apparent, or unexpected learning difficulties arise. This

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