Assessment is a complex, research-driven field in education.  As with the Equity & Inclusion theme, we simplify the Assessment theme somewhat by concentrating on specific “focus areas.”  These focus areas are not meant to encompass the field of assessment, but are meant to help ISEE participants move beyond traditional tests as the primary means of assessing student performance and capabilities, to thinking about and implementing assessment for learning, and for evaluating the learning outcomes that are most important. The three ISEE focus areas are:

Articulating assessable learning outcomes:

Within ISEE, assessment is considered part of designing an inquiry activity, and the first step in design is to define intended assessable learning outcomes. This focus area shifts ISEE participants from thinking along the more traditional lines of “what I will cover,” to “what are the most important things my students should know and be able to do.” ISEE participants identify concepts that are core to the discipline and have broad explanatory power, then identify what understanding would look or sound like when a learner successfully uses the concept to explain or design something. For example, the concept of intermolecular forces can be used to explain many phenomena, and if chosen as a learning goal for an activity, an ISEE participant would be asked to clearly articulate what he/she would look for in an explanation given by one of his/her students. ISEE participants also identify an important cognitive STEM practice their students should learn, and then identify what mastery looks like in a way that is transferrable to a different context. For example, optimization is an important cognitive practice used in many contexts, and has been the focus of past ISEE participant-designed activities. If this practice is chosen, an ISEE participant will be asked how they will know their students are successful at optimizing (what are some generalizable aspects of optimizing a system?). 

Making learners’ thinking visible:

ISEE sessions emphasize the importance of using strategies to make learners’ thinking visible to both the instructor and the learner, as an important part of formative assessment. This way, learners can more clearly pinpoint areas where they may need to improve their understanding, and facilitators can adjust their teaching to better support learners. As they design their inquiry activities, ISEE participants develop a lesson plan that incorporates relevant strategies, and then they practice these strategies as they facilitate their activities. ISEE participants make design choices that foster meaningful talk amongst peers, such as structuring investigation teams of 2-3 students, and actively monitoring social dynamics to support productive interactions within the teams. They learn on-the-fly facilitation moves for encouraging students to communicate their thinking in a range of ways, such as drawing, demonstrating with an experimental setup, or explaining.

Assessing content understanding through learners’ explanations:

A powerful indicator of conceptual understanding is the ability to use a concept to explain a phenomenon, predict an outcome, or make a design choice. ISEE participants design an activity that has a culminating task requiring learners to explain their findings from their science investigation (or the solution to their engineering problem), using evidence and the core concept that is the intended learning goal. For example, ISEE participants might have their students present a short, hand-drawn poster of their findings, introducing the task with a very carefully worded prompt that is intended to elicit the evidence needed to assess the students’ understandings. Participants use a scoring rubric to assess their students, prepared prior to teaching, and use it not just in the “culminating assessment task,” but to guide them as they formatively (in an ongoing way) assess students’ learning and give students feedback throughout the activity.