Assessment in secondary science
Assessment in secondary science

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Assessment in secondary science

1.2 Progress in science

As a teacher, it is your responsibility to help students make progress in learning. That is, as a result of engaging in the learning activities you provide in a sequence of lessons, your students will know what you intend them to know at the end, and that is more than they knew at the start. However, progress is a broad concept and is understood to be about more than acquiring science content knowledge. There are many different elements to consider including conceptual understanding, technical skills, investigative skills and understanding of the nature of science. When thinking about each of these some notion of what it means to make progress must be agreed and shared. You also need to have a clear understanding of the learning that they need to do, where they are now and how best to help them bridge the gap.

Reflection point

What is distinctive about progression in scientific understanding in relation to content, skills and understanding of science methodology?

Progression takes place over a number of different timescales: for example, across a sequence of lessons, or a year, or a key stage. Secondary school departments and teachers have to decide how to structure their teaching over these timescales in order to support students’ progression in learning.

Progression can be considered in two ways:

  1. Progression in relation to the learning experiences planned by the teacher; that is, planning for:
    • increasing breadth of study
    • greater complexity of phenomena studied
    • introducing more precise subject terminology and vocabulary
    • increasing use of generalised knowledge and abstract ideas
    • requiring greater precision in undertaking intellectual and practical tasks
    • a more mature awareness and understanding of issues and of the context of differing attitudes and values within which they arise.
  2. Progression in students’ performance; that is, the kind of performance expected in students’ work as they make progress in the subject. Progress in this sense is seen as students demonstrating increasing levels of achievement. Level descriptions are this kind of statement; examination grade criteria and a range of marking schemes and criteria for specific units of work have a similar purpose.

Whatever system is in place, if progress in learning science is to be assessed, teachers need to have a clear framework for progress.

Activity 2 Examining progress in science

Timing: Allow about 30 minutes

Table 1 gives some dimensions of progression in a person’s knowledge and understanding. Fill in other science examples (as far as possible) for the other dimensions suggested.

Table 1 Progression in a person’s knowledge and understanding of dimensions of progression

Example of dimension of progressionFromTo
Narrow to broad: experiences and understanding in a small number of examples to many examples in a broad range of contextKnowing that a paper towel draws up waterKnowing that liquids rise up a capillary tube or that water moves up a plant stem
Simple to complex: understanding simple events to knowing and understanding complicated situations
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Using everyday ideas to using scientific ideas
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Qualitative to quantitative explanations using formulae and equations
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Explanations based on observable entities to ones using unobservable, idealised entities.
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Just as with knowledge and conceptual understanding of the content, assessing skills should be an integral part of everyday teaching, so that both students and teachers can build on existing skills and develop new ones. Teachers need to use a range of assessment techniques to match different aspects of science learning and provide students with opportunities to practise skills. By using different assessment techniques, teachers can differentiate between knowledge that is simply memorised and the nature of students’ conceptual understanding.

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