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Classroom Assessment and the National Science Education Standards
standing in the chemical and physical processes involved with these reactions.
With close examination of the student work produced in this activity, teachers were able to gain insight into abilities, skills, and understandings on which they then could provide feedback to the student. It also provided the teacher with information for additional lessons and activities on chemical and physical reactions. Box 3-5, Box 3-6, Box 3-7, Box 3-8 through Box 3-9 offer samples of this type of student work along with teacher commentary.
Ongoing, formative assessment does not solely rely on a small-group activity structure as in the vignettes. In a whole-class discussion, teachers can create opportunities to listen carefully to student responses as they reflect on their work, an activity, or an opportunity to read aloud. In many classrooms, for example, teachers ask students to summarize the day's lesson, highlighting what sense they made of what they did. This type of format allows the teacher to hear what the students are learning from the activity and offers other students the opportunity of learning about connections that they might not have made.
In one East Palo Alto, California, classroom, the teacher asked two students at the beginning of the class to be ready to summarize their activity at the end. The class had been studying DNA and had spent the class hour constructing a DNA model with colored paper representing different nucleotide bases. In their summary, the students discussed the pairing of nucleotide bases and held up their model to show how adenine pairs with thymine and cytosine pairs with guanine. Although they could identify the parts of the model and discuss the importance of “fit,” they did not connect the representative pieces to a nitrogen base, sugar, and a phosphate group. When probed, they could identify deoxyribose and the phosphate group by color, but they were not able to discuss what roles these subunits played in a DNA helix. After hearing their remarks, the teacher realized that they needed help relating the generalizations from the model to an actual strand of DNA, the phenomenon they were modeling. Regardless of the format —individual, small group, whole class, project-based, written, or discussion—teachers have the opportunity to build in meaningful assessment. These opportunities should be considered in curriculum design.
Cultivating Student Involvement in Assessment
Student participation becomes a key component of successful assessment strategies at every step: clarifying the target and purpose of assessment, discussing the assessment methods, deliberating about standards for quality work, reflecting on the work. Sharing assessment with students does not mean that teachers transfer all responsibility to the student but rather that assessment is shaped and refined from day to day just as teaching is. For student self- and peer-assessment to be incorporated into regular practice requires cultivation and integration into daily classroom discourse, but the results can be well worth the effort. Black and Wiliam (1998a) assert, “...self-assessment by the students is not an interesting option or luxury; it has to be seen as essential” (p. 55). The student is the one who must take action to “close” the gap between what they know and what is expected (Sadler, 1989). A teacher can facilitate this process by providing opportunities for participation and multiple points of entry, but students actually have to take the necessary action.