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Assessment in secondary science
Assessment in secondary science

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2.2 Developing assessment practice

Formative assessment is used in a variety of situations and for different purposes; for example, to:

  • gauge how well the students have grasped ideas (with whole classes)
  • find out what learners already understand and can do before teaching
  • monitor understanding, progress and plan next steps with individuals
  • understand problems that individuals are having with learning
  • encourage learners to take ownership of their learning.

Reflection point

What techniques have you observed or used in your own teaching for the different purposes of assessment listed above? How effective do you think these are?

It is important to use a variety of assessment methods. Assessment also needs to be manageable. One way to achieve this is to design assessment tasks or activities that students can do independently. This will leave you free to focus on the students that you are unsure about.

No matter what the purpose or situation, if formative assessment is to promote learning, you need to:

  • be aware of the intended learning objectives
  • look for evidence or devise activities to determine individuals’ achievement of the objectives
  • investigate the nature of the difficulties or where problems exist, and establish remediation measures
  • involve students in the assessment process.

Activity 3 Classroom assessment methods

Timing: Allow about 30 minutes

Resource 1, ‘Assessment techniques’ [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , describes some classroom formative assessment techniques.

For each of the techniques described, consider:

  • the nature of the assessment information that could be obtained by the technique
  • the possible criticisms (for example, how reliable is it?)
  • the possible challenges of implementing each one in a class of 30 students.

Isolated assessments may help assess students, but will only tell you about a student’s performance or response to a particular question on a particular day. General judgements about individuals made on the basis of such assessments could be flawed, even when they are well designed, as many students suffer from anxiety when being tested or assessed.

It is often preferable to assess the knowledge, skills and understanding that students bring to a lesson by setting up a challenging, interactive task that encourages students to reveal how they see a topic.

Activity 4 Planning to use formative assessment techniques

Timing: Allow about 90 minutes

Watch these two video clips:

As you watch the clips, identify:

  • any assessment of students that the teacher might be doing during the lesson
  • which techniques the teacher is using
  • opportunities for assessment that the teacher has during the lesson.

For each example you have identified, suggest:

  • what assessment information could be gained
  • whether the assessment gives the teacher information about the class as a whole or about the understanding of an individual
  • the benefits and possible drawbacks.

Assessment is not something that is simply confined to specific assessment points or activities during a lesson. It goes on in the teacher’s head throughout the lesson and is central to effective teaching. Throughout a lesson there are many opportunities to assess students. You might have identified strategies such as:

  • questioning
  • talking and listening to students while they are working
  • judging students’ body language and facial expressions.

These strategies enable teachers to get a sense of whether students understand what is being taught. Different techniques suit different purposes, but all have strengths and weaknesses. For example, some widely used assessment techniques, such as mini-whiteboards and traffic lights, provide a crude snapshot of students’ understanding, and students may copy their friends or simply show the green card to avoid admitting their confusion publicly. Teachers therefore need to evaluate assessment practices critically.