Foundations of Education and Instructional Assessment/Performance Assessment and Rubrics/Secondary Science
Summative & Formative Testing in High School Earth Science
by Alec Bauserman
“It is no use saying, 'We are doing our best.' You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary" . --Winston Churchill
With the advent of the No Child Left Behind Act and the state's adoption of the SOLs, school-wide testing has taken the front seat in public education. Students have high expectations placed on them and they come under increased scrutiny to ensure they are on track to meet these goals. Pre-tests, midterms, post assessments, quizzes, tests, common assessments. The list is endless. Testing has not only become the desired 'ends,' but the 'means' as well. As school systems focus more and more on the benefits of varying forms of assessments, it is sensible that the teacher should also consider their options. This paper will examine the varying forms of assessment available to the high school science teacher, with specific examples provided for earth science.
By the conclusion of this article, the reader will be able to:
- recognize and explain the different forms of assessment
- list pro's and con's of each type of assessment
- be able to define performance assessments, cite benefits & give examples
Reasons for Assessment
Before we examine the types of assessments, we must first understand WHY assessments are given in the first place. Traditionally, a teacher would give a test at the end of a unit to measure how successful they were in imparting the material to their students. They'd grade the test, hand it back & move on. These days tests are used for more than just determining how much a student learned or how hard they studied. Teachers give a quiz or other assignment to AID the learning process, not just measure it. Tests given at the end of a unit to determine how much a student learned are called summative assessments. Tests given along the way which are used to assist the learning process (and not just to measure the results) are named formative assessments
Summative = assessment OF learning
Formative = assessment FOR learning
Both of these have a place in the classroom. Formative assessments are given midway through a lesson. They help students understand the material and they help teachers determine how quickly the student's are picking up the material. By assigning a grade to them, teachers make it 'worthwhile' for the students to put forth their full effort. If the teacher makes the assessment a collective effort with students working in pairs or small groups, the students benefit from peer-to-peer dialogue and the students who have gained a better understanding can impart their knowledge to the students who haven't yet mastered the subject matter. By the time the teacher reaches the end of the unit, a summative assessment can be given, each student working with only their knowledge. They should be comfortable in their understanding and confident in the their responses. The grade will be counted and the class will move on.
Types of Assessment
Summative Assessment - a summative assessment is given at the end of a unit to determine just how much each student gained from the lessons. A summative assessment can take many forms, but in a secondary science class they are usually one of the following:
- a chapter test
- an essay
- a project
Each of these has its own strengths and weaknesses. Chapter tests are the most common but not necessarily the most effective means of testing a student's knowledge and the application of that knowledge. Tests are good in that they can take many forms - selected response (multiple choice, true-false, matching), short answer, fill in the blank, etc. A more diverse test with a wide range of question types is useful. On the other hand it is a form of putting all one's eggs in a single basket. A bad night before the test, classroom disruption during the test, a poorly written question... All of these can lead to lower student scores which do not accurately reflect a student's true grasp of the material. I have personally given tests where I knew for a fact that the student knew the material yet were unable to answer the question due to poor wording on my part. As such, a summative chapter test is not always the most effective way to determine academic progress.
An essay also has its pros and cons. On the one hand it is useful in that a student may take their time and think through their response. They can consult with the teacher or other students to improve their response. By writing out their thoughts, it is readily apparent to the teacher whether or not the student understands the material. A monkey with a pencil will occasionally score well on a multiple-choice test but its is much harder to fake understanding with a constructed response like an essay. In this way, essays make good summative assessments. On the other hand, they are difficult for students with poor writing skills. I teach freshmen and many of them struggle to write coherent sentences and develop a linear argument. A student may perfectly understand the material they were taught yet fail the essay simply because they are not effective writers.
Sample Earth Science CFA questions
"With your partner, discuss the physical features of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, its origin and its potential future effects. Explain these features with your knowledge of convection currents in the Earth's mantle. In what way does the MAR relate to the Theory of Plate Tectonics? Construct a response in 5-paragraph form, no less than 2 pages long. One partner is responsible for typing, the other will present their findings to the class. See the rubric for details." -Mr Bauserman
EXPLANATION - This CFA is designed to benefit students in several ways:
I have found these CFAs to be fun, useful, and wholly beneficial to instruction. They don't take too much time and they increase students' confidence in their learning.
A project has many qualities which make it an attractive choice for summative assessment. They do not depend on a single days effort, but rather a long time period. They allow students to revise and improve their work. They help students learn as they create it. They are often fun to do (for some) and students take a lot of pride in their work. They can be tailor-made to answer the teachers questions and a rubric can help the students design an good submission. Unfortunately, they often take too much time and students will often wait until the day before to start. A heap of quickly made, poorly constructed projects is a nightmare for a teacher to grade, even with an effective rubric. Also, because each chapter or unit is only so long, the project must usually be described weeks in advance. For teachers constantly pressed for time, this takes a lot of effort and foresight to be successful.
Formative Assessment - a formative assessment is given during instruction in order to 1) help the student learn the material and 2) aid the teacher in determining how well the students understand the material. It is often termed an "assessment for learning." A few examples of formative assessments I've given my high school earth science & biology classes are:
- Common Formative Assessment (CFA)
- examination & discussion of articles
A presentation is a great example of a formative assessment. Students are assigned a topic to present to the class, either individually or in groups, most often using Powerpoint. The students learn the material as they study it, condense it, and package it into a form easily understood by their peers. It is often said that the best way to learn something is to approach it as though you would need to teach it to someone. A presentation is just such an example. Students must research and understand the material well enough to teach it and answer basic questions on it. The drawback is that in any group, some will work hard and others just enough to get by. The learning is not always equal. Additionally, teachers must develop a rubric, grade the resulting presentations, and patch up any holes in the student's instruction. It can often take more time than just teaching 'the old fashioned way.'
The term CFA has several meanings but in my class I use it to refer to a group quiz that is given to aid student understanding. I will typically present a graphic or animation that contains material covered in the last few days (or weeks if possible) and ask several "knowledge" questions and several "application" questions. These are helpful because our Virginia SOLs are graph- and graphic-heavy so I make every effort to expose my students to these. We will discuss the answers afterward and the students grade each others papers. This cuts down on the teacher's workload. Drawbacks are few, but the most common is that one group member does most of the work and the others daydream. Even so, I have found these to be effective and I will continue to use them in my instruction.
Recent online and in-print news articles offer a great avenue to provide formative assessments. Students are given a handout, no more than a page or two, with a news article pertaining to the current topic in the class. They are to read it and answer some basic questions. The article provides students with a real-world example of the topic's relevance and the discussion afterwards helps students to understand what they read. Reading comprehension is benefited and they can discuss their personal opinion on the subject. The downside is that it is difficult to find articles that have enough topic-specific vocabulary yet are on a reading level suitable for high schoolers. The article is often too easy or too hard, or requires a lot of background knowledge and prior explanation. Even so, articles are fun to use and benefit the students who read them
"...the application of knowledge, skills, and work habits through the performance of tasks that are meaningful and engaging to students" (Hibbard and others, 1996)
What are the benefits of a performance assessment ?
Regardless of the purpose for testing, a teacher should always feel comfortable giving a performance-based assessment. By asking the students to show their accumulated knowledge and skills, a teacher can assess the students formatively or summatively. Performance assessments can take many forms; many have already been mentioned above. Speeches, presentations, projects, activities, games... Any activity where a student must do something other than filling out a test can be considered a performance assessment. They may be performed individually or in groups, they can be formal (count for a grade) or be informal. They may be used to test a students progress (summative) or be used to assist in the learning process (formative).
Some of the benefits of using performance-based assessments are in the table to the right. Generally speaking, a performance assessment is most beneficial in giving the teacher a better understanding of student mastery as compared to a standard, selected-response summative test. McLaughlin and Warren found that these assessments were effective when given to student's with disabilities (McLaughlin, M.J. and Warren, S.H., 2008).
For the assessment to be effective, however, the teacher must first do two things:
- Clearly define the skill-set or body of knowledge to be tested
- Create a clear rubric for the students to work with
Teachers who attempt to give a performance-based assessment and are displeased with the results often failed to do one these two things. By having muddled goals or unclear standards of expectations, both the teacher and students become frustrated and the assessment is in vain.
- Hibbard, K. M. and others. (1996). "A teacher's guide to performance-based learning and assessment." Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
- McLaughlin, M.J. and Warren, S.H. "Using Performance Assessment in Outcomes-Based Accountability Systems. ERIC Digest E533". ERIC Educational Reports. Retrieved from FindArticles.com. 29 Oct. 2008. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_pric/is_199506/ai_874853005
- Meisels, S.J. (2008). "Teacher's Timely Topics: Performance Assessment." Retrieved from http://teacher.scholastic.com 28 Oct, 2008. http://teacher.scholastic.com/professional/assessment/perfassess.htm
1) Student testing can be either _______ or __________. (KNOWLEDGE)
- a) formal ; informal
- b) summative ; formative
- c) both a & b
- d) neither a nor b
2) Formative assessments are useful for all but which reason? (KNOWLEDGE)
- a) they allow a teacher to adjust instruction
- b) they identify student strengths and weaknesses
- c) they assist the student learn the material
- d) they require less planning than summative assessments
3) Which of the following would be a good example of a summative test? (REASONING)
- a) A geometry teacher assigns 5 pages of bookwork for homework
- b) A gym teacher makes his class run 10, untimed laps around the gym.
- c) An art teacher demonstrates how to sketch a self-portrait with charcoal
- d) A Spanish teacher gives a chapter test on vocabulary and verb tense.
4) What might be a possible drawback of performance testing? (REASONING)
- a) they allow students to use their own individual talents
- b) they benefit the student's understanding of the material
- c) they are time-consuming
- d) they can be more fun than a pen-and-paper assessment
- 1 - C
- 2 - D
- 3 - D
- 4 - C