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Assessment in secondary science
Assessment in secondary science

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2 How can assessment support learning in science?

What does ‘assessment’ mean to you? For some people it brings to mind timed, written tests, or tests that determined which class they were placed in. Often associated with these memories are feelings of anxiety or elation. For those who find learning more difficult, assessment may impact on their self-confidence and self-worth, as well as their attitude towards the subject and towards school. This is unsurprising given that examinations mean that whatever someone feels they have learned on a course, their knowledge was going to be summed up by a timed test. If a person had an off-day, if the questions did not quite correspond to the ones they knew the answers to, or if mistakes were made in the stress of the moment … then hard luck!

More often than not, assessment in the past was done to students. Its main purpose was not to help improve learning; it was to find out what someone did (or did not) know. Even with smaller-scale assessments – say, a piece of homework – learners were often simply given a mark or a brief comment (‘excellent’, ‘could do better’, ‘neat work’, and so on). Again, the key point is that assessment was done to the learner. A significant recent development has been the recognition that assessment can be used to promote and support learning. Today, summative assessment is balanced by assessment for learning (AfL), also known as formative assessment.