9.6.3. Formal Methods of Assessment

Formal assessment methods generally involve the use of a test. What we want to emphasize in this section is that tests can vary in their form and effectiveness in assessing student learning. You are probably quite familiar with forms of tests such as: multiple choice tests, true-false, fill-in-the-blank, analogies, matching and short answer or essay.. The first item listed above is an example of one of these forms---the multiple choice test. I'm sure you are quite familiar with it! But the other two items are assessments, as well. Notice that look more like activities, than "test questions." Also note that it appears as if one assessment is administered to a group. These two are examples of performance assessments.

Formal evaluation has been undergoing a transformation. The trend is toward increasing use of performance assessments, using questions that look more like activities, and using student portfolios. Let's look at these ideas, first by examining performance assessment, then by examining a plan for organizing assessment of cognitions, cognitive skills, affects and psychomotor skills, and finally a look at the concept of student portfolios.

Performance Assessments.

Performance assessments typically involve students, either individually or in small teams in the act of solving a problem, or thinking critically about a problem, data or observation. Performance assessments also involve assessing students on their ability to use science skills such as sorting and classifying, observing and formulating hypotheses, interpreting data, and designing and conducting an experiment. The table below describes some examples of performance assessment items used in a recent test. Notice that each item is a sort of task, requiring the student to "do science," reflecting the hands-on/minds-on approach advocated by science educators. For more performance assessment tasks, check out the Performance Assessment Links in Science that are relate to the National Science Education Standards.

Performance Assessment Items

1. Observing: Student's watch a demonstration of centrifugal force and then respond to written questions about what occurred during the demonstration. Students need to make careful observations about what happens as the teacher puts the steel balls in different holes on the Whirlybird arms and then infer the relationship between the position of the steel balls and the speed at which the arm rotates.

2. Formulating Hypotheses: Students describe what occurs when a drop of water is placed on each of seven different types of building materials (equal sized pieces of plastic, painted wood, brick, metal, roof shingle, glass). Then, the students are asked to predict what will happen to a drop of water as it is placed on the surface of an unknown material (piece of porous cinder block), which is sealed in a plastic bag so they can examine it, but not test it.

3. Classifying: Students are asked to sort a collection of small-animal vertebrae into three groups and to explain how the bones in the groupings are alike. To complete the task, students need to make careful observations about the similarities and differences among the bones and to choose their categories according to sets of common characteristics.

Performance assessments are creative approaches that you can employ in an assessment plan. They are creative because the emphasis is on the methods as well as the ideas that students generate. They place the student in situations that are in accordance with what science instruction should look like. There is a high correlation between performance assessment and a hands-on, conceptual approach to science teaching.

Following are some of the characteristics of performance assessments:

• Typically involve students in real-world contexts.

• Involve students in sustained work, sometimes over several days.

• Focus on the "big ideas" and major concepts, rather than isolated facts and definitions.

• Are broad in scope, usually involving several principles of science.

• Involve the students in using science processes, the use of scientific methods, and manipulation of science tools.

• Present students with open-ended problems.

• Encourage students to collaborate and brainstorm.

• Stimulate students to make connections among important concepts and ideas.

• Based on scoring criteria related to content, process, group skills, communication skills.