Essentials of Science Classroom Assessment


Xiufeng Liu

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    Assessment is one of most important yet overlooked aspects in science teacher education. Although almost every elementary and secondary science methods course includes at least one session on science assessment, it is most likely that discussions on assessment are sketchy and often rushed. Similarly, popular science methods texts in which assessment is typically one of many chapters only gloss over a wide variety of assessment methods. The outcome is no surprise: Many preservice science teachers develop neither systematic understanding of the role of assessment in science instruction nor competence in applying various science assessment methods. Over the past 15 years, the teaching of science methods courses and graduate science assessment courses in both Canada and United States has convinced me that an urgent need exists for a text that systematically introduces science-specific and practical classroom assessment methods to develop competence in conducting science classroom assessment.

    Essentials of Science Classroom Assessment is a supplementary text for use in an elementary or secondary science methods course for preservice science teachers. It can also be a main text for a graduate course in science assessment for inservice science teachers. Essentials of Science Classroom Assessment systematically introduces fundamental science assessment methods that are integral of science teaching and learning. It presents not only conventional science assessment methods but also novel and innovative assessment methods that are the results of recent science assessment research. Essentials of Science Classroom Assessment intends to bridge science assessment research and science classroom practice and to connect explicitly science assessment and student learning. The ultimate goal of Essentials of Science Classroom Assessment is to help preservice and inservice science teachers develop competence in conducting science classroom assessment to support student learning.

    Essentials of Science Classroom Assessment follows a constructivist approach to organizing its content. There are three essential components in the constructivist approach to science teaching and learning:

    • Identifying student preconceptions to plan effective science inquiry
    • Promoting and monitoring student conceptual change during inquiry
    • Assessing and reflecting on conceptual change at the end of an inquiry cycle

    The above three components correspond to three types of science assessment introduced in this book:

    • Diagnostic assessment
    • Formative assessment
    • Summative assessment

    Essentials of Science Classroom Assessment will help science teachers develop an appreciation that science assessment is an integral component of an effective science teaching and learning process and that science assessment is multifaceted in methods (e.g., paper and pencil, performance, concept mapping), time (before, during, and after instruction), and space (individual paper and pencil, collaborative project, computer and Internet based).

    Organization of the Text

    There are eight chapters in the book. Chapter 1 presents a conceptual framework of science assessment in terms of its relationship with science instruction and its various components. There are seven chapters following Chapter 1. The seven chapters are presented in the order of diagnostic assessment (Chapter 2), summative assessment (Chapters 3, 4, and 5), and formative assessment (Chapter 6). Chapter 7 deals with grading. Chapter 8, the final chapter, deals with a common element of all assessment—data—and discusses ways of using data to improve science teaching and learning. Chapter 8 also presents a rationale of science assessment as an inquiry to integrate all chapters in this book into a coherent conceptual framework. Although Chapters 2 through 6 may be followed in the order above, essentially all the six chapters stand alone; they can be used in any particular order.

    Features of the Text

    Essentials of Science Classroom Assessment has the following unique features:

    Science Assessment Standards Oriented

    Each chapter explicitly addresses specific assessment standards in the National Science Education Standards (NSES). Assessment methods introduced in the chapters are essential for meeting the NSES assessment standards. Each chapter covers not only general assessment methods, such as writing multiple-choice questions, but also science-specific assessment methods, such as Vee diagramming, two-tiered multiple-choice questions, and predication-observation-explanation that have resulted from science education research. Preservice and inservice teachers should benefit from this approach by becoming aware of the expectations in terms of science assessment and being fully equipped to meet the standards.

    Competence Based

    Each chapter focuses on a few assessment skills that are essential for effective science classroom instruction. Practical examples from both elementary and secondary science classrooms are used throughout the chapter to illustrate the assessment skills. Checklist and practice questions are available at the end of each chapter for preservice teachers to check their mastery of assessment skills. Throughout each chapter, opportunities for applying the assessment skills are also available. The objective of this competence-based approach is to help preservice and inservice teachers to see the direct relevance of the assessment skills to science classroom instruction and to become competent in them.

    Parallel to Method Courses

    The structure of this book parallels the structure of a typical elementary and secondary science method course. Assessment concepts and skills in different chapters intend to support various instructional methods and skills introduced in science methods courses. With the exception of Chapters 1 and 8, all other chapters stand alone and can be followed in any order. This feature provides preservice teachers and college methods course instructors maximal flexibility to fully incorporate Essentials of Science Classroom Assessment.

    Resources to Expand Learning Experiences

    Each chapter introduces essential assessment concepts and skills that are only directly relevant to elementary and secondary science instruction. It is hoped that preservice teachers and inservice science teachers will develop further interest in science assessment and a desire to learn more. Thus, at the end of each chapter, there is a list of annotated bibliographies introducing more advanced readings on science assessment. Also, the companion Web site introduces additional resources and tools. At the end of each chapter, preservice teachers should be able to realize that the assessment methods introduced in the chapter are topics of active research in science education and constantly evolving, and it is necessary to keep informed continuously.

    Pedagogical Features of the Text

    To facilitate constructive classroom discussion and self-reflection, Essentials of Science Classroom Assessment also incorporates the following pedagogical features:

    Application and Self-Reflection

    After introduction of a major assessment method, a shaded box titled Application and Self-Reflection provides an opportunity to apply the method or initiate discussion of critical issues associated with the assessment method. For example, after introducing the technique of constructing a test grid in Chapter 3, an Application and Self-Reflection box follows describing an assessment scenario and asking science teachers to develop a test grid to share with the class and critique each other's test grid.

    The Cases of Eric and Elisia

    Each chapter ends with a case scenario of two imaginary preservice teachers, Eric, a science elementary teacher, and Elisia, a secondary chemistry teacher, on their experiences of learning science assessment. This case scenario box intends to initiate classroom discussion and self-reflection on the assessment skills introduced in the chapter, as well as on the issues that may arise in the classrooms. It is hoped that the case scenarios provide a personal contextualization of assessment skills discussed in the chapter. Through relating to Eric and Elisia's experiences, preservice and inservice teachers will be able to see personal relevance and issues of the assessment methods introduced in the chapters.

    Chapter Summary

    At the end of each chapter, a brief summary provides a concise review of essential assessment concepts and skills introduced in the chapter. This summary can be used as a guide to review the chapter material before taking a self-evaluation of the mastery of the chapter content.

    Ancillary Materials

    A Web-based student study site further supports and enhances the learning goals of Essentials of Science Classroom Assessment. It is located at the following URL:

    This comprehensive study site provides numerous resources to enhance students’ understanding of the book's content. Each chapter includes an online quiz designed to test your mastery of essential assessment skills and concepts of the chapter, as well as e-flashcards and Web resources. Other resources include a collection of alternative assessment tasks for teachers to use with students and over 40 abstracts that identify K–12 students’ preconceptions of various science topics. Various data analysis tools (e.g., Microsoft Excel data analysis templates) are also available on the site.


    I would like to acknowledge the many people who have helped to create this book. First and foremost, my wife Lily Li has been consistently supportive of my work by sparing me from many household chores. My children, Iris Liu (10th grade) and Murton Liu (5th grade), have been a constant source of motivation by talking to me about their schoolwork and sharing with me their assessment experiences as students. Diane McDaniel, my editor at SAGE Publications, has been patient and insightful. Her input throughout the planning and writing of this book has made it a much better product than I expected. My sincere thanks also go to Leah Mori, editorial assistant at SAGE, for keeping things in good order. This book is a result of my teaching science methods courses, particularly LAI 534 Measurement and Evaluation of Science Teaching, at SUNY—Buffalo. Students who took my courses provided valuable comments and suggestions on the materials included in this book and were a constant motivation for me to complete this book.

    Many reviewers provided valuable comments about and suggestions to the book proposal and draft chapters. I specifically thank Wali Abdi (University of Memphis), Anjana G. Arora (Richard Stockton College of New Jersey), Katy Bachman (Florida Gulf Coast University), Kimberly Bilica (University of Texas at San Antonio), Alec M. Bodzin (Lehigh University), Wendy M. Frazier (George Mason University), Richard A. Huber (University of North Carolina, Wilmington), Jeanine M. Huss (Western Kentucky University), Sonia Kowalczuk (New Jersey City University), George E. O'Brien (Florida International University), Don Powers (Western Illinois University), Denise Richardson (Jacksonville State University), Barbara R. Sandall (Western Illinois University), Michelle Scribner-MacLean (University of Massachusetts Lowell), John Shimkanin (California University of Pennsylvania), and four anonymous reviewers.

    XiufengLiu, Buffalo, NY
  • Glossary

    Analytic scoring rubric: an elaborated scoring scheme that contains two dimensions: construct and proficiency.

    Application: the ability to use knowledge effectively in a new situation to solve a problem.

    Assessment: a systematic, multistep, and multifaceted process involving the collection and interpretation of data.

    Benchmarking: comparing one group of students’ performance with the state, national, or international average.

    Cognition: theories on how students learn.

    Cognitive style: the organization and control of cognitive processes pertaining to information receiving, contexts, and information processing.

    Concept mapping: a process of creating a graphical representation of the relationship between and among concepts.

    Criterion-referenced grading: uses qualitatively different categories or levels of performances as grades.

    Diagnostic assessment: conducted specifically to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses on the intended learning objectives so that effective planning for instruction may take place.

    Dialogic journaling: involves two persons (i.e., a student and the teacher) who ask questions to each other and discuss ideas.

    Differentiated assessment: an approach to conducting assessment according to student individual differences.

    Discrepant event: a surprising, counterintuitive, unexpected, and paradoxical phenomenon.

    Empathy: the ability to get inside another person's feelings and worldviews.

    Episodes: memories of events experienced directly or vicariously.

    Evaluation: the process of interpreting measurement data based on a set of criteria to make certain judgments.

    Explanation: a person's ability to provide knowledgeable and justifiable accounts of events, actions, and ideas.

    Formative assessment: takes place as part of ongoing instruction in order to monitor and make adjustments to the ongoing instruction.

    Grade: a judgmental statement about a student's achievement in both quantity and quality.

    Grade reporting: the ways in which student grades are communicated to various audiences.

    Grading: a process of deciding and communicating how well students have mastered the learning outcomes.

    Holistic scoring rubric: a one-dimensional hierarchical differentiation that defines qualitatively different degrees of performances in terms of global characteristics.

    Images: mental representations of sensory perceptions.

    Intellectual skills: mental processes performed to solve a problem or conduct a task.

    Interpretation: the narratives or translations that provide meaning to events or objects.

    Interviews: conversations on a specific topic between the science teacher and a student (i.e., individual interview) or between the science teacher and a whole class (i.e., group interview).

    Item difficulty: the percentage or proportion of students who have answered a question correctly.

    Item discrimination: the way in which an item can differentiate between students whose overall abilities are high and those whose overall abilities are low.

    Laboratory skills: both the manipulative and thinking skills involved in laboratory activities; they are also called process skills.

    Lake Wobegon effect: people's tendency to overestimate themselves in relation to others.

    Learning style: the preferred approaches to the acquisition and organization of knowledge. Simply put, learning style is about how students learn best.

    Likert scale: a set of statements followed by different degrees of agreement.

    Mean: the arithmetic average of a set of scores over all students. It represents the central tendency of individual scores among the students.

    Measurement: a process of quantifying the degree to which a student possesses a given characteristic, quality, or feature.

    Median: a score that is located at the middle when all scores are rank-ordered from highest to lowest.

    Mode: the score that has the most occurrences.

    Motor skills: procedures followed to conduct a physical task.

    Narrative report: explains meanings of grades and suggests how to improve them.

    Norm-referenced grading: awards students grades based on their positions on a normal distribution curve among a given group.

    Observation: assessment tasks through which students’ attainment of learning outcomes is elicited.

    Open-ended journaling: process in which students can decide on a specific focus, format, and length to write about a given concept.

    Opportunity to learn: the provision of conditions, resources, and practices that maximizes students’ likelihood to achieve the expected learning competence.

    Percentage grading: uses a percentage as the grade to indicate the amount of content (e.g., number of objectives) a student has mastered.

    Perspectives: the ability to appreciate different points of view.

    Prediction-observation-explanation: a specialized group interview aimed at probing students’ understanding of a natural phenomenon.

    Propositions: facts, opinions, and beliefs.

    Range: the difference between the maximum and minimum score.

    Responsive journaling: process in which students answer questions posed by the teacher, while both open-ended journaling and responsive journaling take place individually.

    Rubric: a continuum along which different levels of competence in performing a task are differentiated.

    Rubric grading: extended criterion-referenced grading that incorporates multiple performance levels and percentage grades.

    Self-knowledge: a person's ability to identify his or her own weaknesses and to actively seek improvement.

    Standard deviation: the averaged difference between individual scores and the mean of the scores.

    Standardized test: a measurement tool that requires uniform administration, scoring, and interpretation.

    Strings: fundamental statements or generalizations that do not vary from situation to situation. Strings are usually in the form of proverbs, laws, and rules.

    Structure knowledge: the knowledge of how concepts within a domain are interrelated.

    Student preconceptions: the different ideas students that bring with them before they learn the new concept or content.

    Summative assessment: takes place at the conclusion of instruction in order to grade students for mastering instructional objectives and make decisions for student future learning.

    Test: a set of questions or tasks that elicits student responses plus a set of scoring keys or schemes to score them.

    Test grid: consists of a topic dimension and a cognitive reasoning dimension.

    Two-tiered MC question: a combination of two conventional multiple-choice questions, with the first one asking students to answer a question by selecting the best answer and the second one asking students to justify the given answer by selecting all applicable reasons.

    About the Author

    Xiufeng Liu is associate professor of science education at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He received his doctorate in science education from the University of British Columbia in 1993. He was a high school chemistry teacher in China, a research associate at the China National Institute for Educational Research (CNIER), and a science teacher educator in Canada before his current position. He conducts research in the closely related areas of technology-enhanced science assessment, applications of measurement models in science education, conceptual change in science, and science curriculum policies. He has published more than 30 refereed articles in key science education journals, 5 books, and 15 book chapters, and he has presented numerous papers at national and international conferences. Dr. Liu teaches courses entitled Measurement and Evaluation of Science Teaching, Seminar on Science Teaching, Seminar on Science Curricula, and Technology for Science Teaching. In addition, he conducts an annual summer science assessment workshop for teachers and is frequently invited to give talks and workshops on science assessment, including Rasch measurement, in the United States and abroad.

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