Middle School Science

Classroom Assessment Methods

Instruction can be effective only if classroom assessments accurately reflect student achievement. For this reason, those concerned with the quality of instruction must also be concerned with the quality of assessment. Assessment should be a systematic, multi-step process involving the collection and interpretation of educational data on student progress. Student performance guides what teachers should teach, reflects what students have learned, and indicates what students need to learn.

In the past, many instructors evaluated their students’ understanding of a scientific concept with a traditional, multiple-choice, pencil and paper test. Today, teachers use a variety of classroom assessment methods to probe the extent and organization of their students’ knowledge. The choice of specific assessment methods should match the kind of knowledge – conceptual or procedural – we are assessing.  Conceptual knowledge refers to what we want students to understand (concepts, principles) and procedural knowledge refers to what we want students to be able to do (skills, processes, strategies.)

Classroom assessment methods in science include the following:

1.  Selected Response

Student selects either the correct or best answer from among the options given. This method can assess mastery of conceptual or procedural knowledge.

Examples of selected response include multiple choice, true-false, and matching.

2.  Constructed Response

Student communicates a brief response, usually written, to questions, problems, or prompts. This method can assess big concepts, generalizations, and relationships among elements of conceptual knowledge.  It can provide insight into a student's reasoning ability. A performance check list or rubric can be used to "score" the response.

Examples of constructed response include asking students to graph experimental data and describe the pattern or trend that is evident, create a concept map or web of a science topic, or make a labeled diagram to illustrate and explain the role of green plants in the process of photosynthesis, asking students to "show and explain their work" on a density calculation problem, or make a labeled diagram to illustrate and explain the three ways thermal energy is transferred.

3.  Performance-Based Assessments

A. Performance Task

Student creates a product or performs a demonstration that illustrates how he or she can apply conceptual knowledge and procedural skills to carry out steps in the development of the specified product or task. It can assess both conceptual and procedural knowledge. Evaluations of student products are based on judgments guided by criteria. Rubrics and performance checklists are often used as scoring tools.

Examples of a performance task include having students write a newspaper editorial defending a position on curtailing harvesting of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab; design an experiment to determine the limiting factors on the germination of a particular kind of seed; create a trade book on using the microscope to compare a plant and a animal cell for a fifth grade student; create a multimedia presentation for Earth Day on the interdependence with the biosphere, write a newspaper editorial defending a position on the use of nuclear energy for generating electricity; design an experiment to determine the effect of different kinds of insulating materials on thermal energy loss; create a trade book on "atoms and elements" for sixth grade students; conduct an experiment to identify an unknown substance based on its properties; create a multimedia presentation for National Science and Technology Week on the interdependence of science, technology, and society in some aspect of the nanotechnology program.

B. Portfolio

Representative samples of student work are purposefully collected over time. This can be used to show student effort, progress or achievement in a given area.

Example of a portfolio includes asking students to keep a record of different investigations or lab reports over time to see progress in ability to make qualitative and quantitative observations, organize and analyze information, and communicate results of an investigation.

C. Teacher Observations, Questioning, and Conferencing

The teacher observes the student during an activity or asks questions to learn about a student’s thinking process relevant to conceptual or procedural knowledge. These provide valuable feedback information to teachers and to students so that adjustments to instruction can be made.

Examples of teacher observations, questioning, and conferencing include observing students in a lab situation to determine their ability to follow a written 
procedure, the use of the "think aloud"  technique to evaluate a student’s ability to make a wet mount slide and focus the image under a microscope or to use a triple beam balance to  find the mass of an object, posing oral  questions to assess a student’s understanding of a difficult section in the science textbook,  or conferencing with a student to learn what they know about a particular concept and what questions they might still have.

D. Student Self-Assessment

The student self-assesses the quality of a performance, product, or process he or she used. This method allows students to keep track of their own progress through criteria established by the student and teacher.  This also enables students to be part of the learning experience, and take ownership in understanding the goals and criteria for success related to conceptual and procedural learning goals.

Examples of student self-assessment include allowing students to use a check list for assessing the quality of a graph they produced: or after completing a series of lessons on heredity, asking students to write in a learning log the concepts which they found most understandable and those which they still do not understand completely.

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Myra Thayer
Science Coordinator

Linda Peterson
Middle School Curriculum Specialist

Webpage Curator

Rebecca Tenally

Last Updated

December 27, 2011