This time of year, end-of-year reports lead me to a careful examination of my own assessment practices. What have students learned, how do I know they learned it, and how can I improve on my assessment strategies? One of the goals at Bixby is to create a clear picture of student understanding without relying on a battery of written tests. That means seeking alternative assessments that work for diverse learning styles and, in science, help keep class as active and hands-on as possible.
Science assessments come in three flavors. Diagnostic assessment highlights pre- and misconceptions, gaps, learning challenges and strengths. Formative assessment shows how well students are grasping content, so both teachers and students can make adjustments. Summative assessment is the end game; it evaluates how well students mastered content and how effectively the teacher presented it.
In Bixby’s science room—thanks largely to creative teachers of years past—summative assessments are both effective and great fun. Students actually bounce up and down in anticipation of end-of-unit projects. While describing patterns in our solar system may be “boring,” designing your own planet to highlight those patterns is a treat. Students are excited to create comic strips depicting a human body system, or write an adventure story about a blood cell trying to get back to the heart. They clamor to design and test paper airplanes with the forces of flight and Newton’s Laws in mind. These are culminating assessments—but because of Bixby’s small class size, I can hold frequent one-to-one conversations with students as they make progress, to question more deeply, expand on learning, and sometimes reteach.
One of my favorite sources for both diagnostic and formative assessments is a book called Science Formative Assessment, by Page Keeley. They book suggests “tests” which strengthen engagement, give students feedback, promote inquiry and reflection. They’re designed to be embedded in daily lessons, as opposed to at the end of a unit, and add to what I can glean from science notebooks, written warm-ups, class discussions, and eavesdropping on collaborations. Many of Keeley’s ideas fit neatly with Bixby’s approach to active, engaged science learning and serve the range of learning styles. Students create human scatterplots, for instance, to kinesthetically state their ideas, or sort cards according to the preconceptions, then sort again when new information is presented. Another good source is 60 Formative Assessment Strategies, by Natalie Regier. While I’ve relied on suggestions from these sources in the science room, it’s a professional goal to incorporate more of them.
Writing end-of-year reports will no doubt clarify which this year’s assessment strategies were most effective, and for whom. Just as these reports inform next year’s goals for my students, they’ll inform professional goals for me, and help me hone in on smart, creative ways of tracking exactly what Bixby scientists are learning and how effectively I’m teaching them.