National Standards for All Grades - Knowing & Doing Science
Each of the three categories is described below.
Mastery of basic scientific concepts can best be shown by a student’s ability to use information to conduct a scientific investigation or engage in practical reasoning. Optimally, essential scientific concepts involve a variety of information, including:
- facts and events learned from science instruction and through experiences with the natural environment;
- scientific concepts, principles, laws, and theories that scientists use to explain and predict observations of the natural world;
- information about procedures for conducting scientific inquiries;
- information about procedures for the application of scientific knowledge in the engagement of practical tasks;
- propositions about the nature, history, and philosophy of science;
- kinds of interactions between and among science, technology, and society.
The goal of school science is to engender conceptual understanding. Students should acquire information in ways that will enable them to apply it efficiently in the design and execution of scientific investigations and in practical reasoning.
A challenge in the design of assessment exercises is to capture changes in the characteristics of student performance as children mature. In the primary years, when the goal of school science is to build a rich collection of information derived from examined experiences with the natural environment, the assessment of conceptual understanding will focus on the breadth of information acquired about the natural world and the student’s ability to elaborate on principles by using personal experiences. Does the student know the cyclical changes in the apparent shape of the Moon over time? More importantly, can the student relate how he or she knows about the changes? What evidence does the assessment exercise provide that the student’s information is based on direct experience? Is there a science notebook in which the student recorded observations of the Moon over time? Does the student know that sometimes the Moon is visible during daylight hours? In the primary years, the focus should not be on explanation or prediction, but instead on knowledge obtained from rich experiences in school. Consequently, assessment exercises would not be concerned with having students explain why the Moon appears to change shape but rather with relationships between time of day, apparent positions of the Sun and the Moon, and times of moonrise and sunset.
In the middle and high school years, the emphasis should shift from richness of experience to reasonable scientific interpretation of observations. In the elementary years, the primary concern should be with how well reasoned the interpretation is presented by the student, not with whether it reflects the most sophisticated scientific reasoning. However, at grades 8 and 12, the assessment should be increasingly concerned with the congruence of the students’ interpretations with accepted interpretations, as well as with the sophistication of their reasoning in moving from observations of the natural world to explanations and predictions. Of special interest in the 2005 NAEP Science Assessment will be the extent to which students are able to understand and use the notions of models, systems, and patterns of change.
It is important to note that many aspects of conceptual understanding as defined for the new NAEP Science Assessment cannot be tested using exclusively multiple-choice items. Items of this kind may be satisfactory for assessing individual parts of the information base, but they are limited in tapping highly valued aspects of conceptual understanding.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Assessment Governing Board.
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