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Classroom Assessment and the National Science Education Standards 1 An Introduction to Assessment in the Science Classroom This report elaborates on the Standards by providing a guide to optimize the ongoing activity in the science classroom that engages both teachers and students in making judgments about the students' quality of work and designing the necessary steps for improvement. This kind of assessment is universally present in schools and is a natural part of both teaching and learning. It is usually evidenced several times each hour as teachers and students ask questions, report on their assignments, and make decisions about what to do next. What are the goals? What differences exist between a student's current understanding and those goals? What can be done to close the gap? The primary aim of the assessment discussed here is to help students do higher quality work. The data collected and discussed in the process also can be used to convey important information about the students to parents and other interested adults. This type of assessment, which is embedded in virtually every aspect of school life, is not the only kind that counts. The United States is in an era of large-scale testing, the like of which has not been seen since standardized tests were first introduced. During World War I, tests were administered to U.S. Army recruits that determined the specialties to which they would be assigned. In the 1920s, IQ tests were used extensively in the public education system to sort students into various school programs. Although they did not have the kind of life-or-death consequences associated with wartime assignments, they nevertheless counted heavily in determining a person's future. Those who scored well went into college-preparatory tracks; the others were assigned to less rigorous “general education” or to vocational programs. In the 1930s and 1940s, national examinations were introduced to provide data that figured in many college-admission decisions. However, all this testing of the past 85 years pales in comparison to the use of
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Classroom Assessment and the National Science Education Standards large-scale examinations today. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, new tests developed at the state or national level and administered to every student are used to rank public elementary and secondary schools, make decisions about their financial allocation from the state, decide if they will continue to be certified, and, in many places, directly determine teachers' salaries. Depending on the grade level and the end use of the results, student examinations for these purposes, which usually take from 2 hours to 2 or 3 days, are used primarily for selection and accountability—selection of students for specialized instructional programs and accountability to parents and other taxpayers regarding the effective use of public funds. Only indirectly are they administered to improve learning. When teachers and the public become aware of the test subject matter, classroom instruction begins to emphasize that content. Student scores rise as teachers teach to the test. Such examinations usually are given at the end of the school year, too late for the teacher to take remedial action with individual students. Often the teacher receives no information about the specific items that each student missed. Finally, the tests, which are typically designed to be machine-scored, do not cover the range of learning promoted in the Standards. This document focuses on the importance and the improvement of the classroom-based element of a balanced system of assessment that includes both external tests and teachers' knowledge of the student's abilities. The Standards feature a range of objectives, including the ability of students to pursue a well-planned scientific investigation that may extend over several days, weeks, or even months. In this type of activity, the teacher makes judgments continually about the student's level of understanding by assisting the student during the course of the project and observing carefully the student's work, asking key questions along the way, and responding to the student's questions. The teacher continually probes the student to ensure how well the student understands the concept, to determine how they approach a problem, and to find out the assumptions that underlie a student's response. During this process, the teacher has unique opportunities to make considered judgments, based on the concrete evidence collected about the quality of student accomplishment. With knowledge of the nature of a student 's understanding, the teacher can act immediately on the basis of that information and does not have to rely solely on brief and often decontextualized responses or small samples of student work. A balanced and integrated system of assessment makes use of what the teacher knows.
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Classroom Assessment and the National Science Education Standards Specifically, additional highlights of the document 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 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 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 Standards. A major theme of this document is that improving the kind of assessment in the science classroom that leads to higher quality student work is not a matter solely of introducing new procedures, frameworks, techniques, rubrics, or guidelines. Because the kind of assessment described in this guide is so intricately rooted in how a teacher sees one's self (and is seen by the students), changing assessment practices in the ways suggested here is far from a mechanical act. A teacher, along with the students, becomes not only a judge of quality but also a designer of the plans necessary to meet the standards. For achievement to be raised, the teachers must help the students themselves learn how to make better judgments about the quality of their own work. A contention in this document is that these kinds of changes in practice are intimately associated with how teachers view their own work as professionals. These changes will require fundamental reexamination of how teachers organize and conduct the class, as well as the kinds of relationships that are desired with students, school administrators, and parents. Redesigning classroom
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Classroom Assessment and the National Science Education Standards assessment in these suggested ways requires nothing less than the kind of deep reflection on the part of the teacher that frequently leads to a fundamental reorientation to what it means for teachers to teach and for students to learn.
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