Examples of science assessments

Last year I gave a pretest to my classes, consisting mostly of vocabulary. I’ve decided to change the assessment and focus more on determining how students think. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, I’m looking for existing tests or test items I could use or adapt.
—Melissa, Wilmington, Delaware
I’ve been involved in several math-science partnership projects, and here are a few published resources the faculty used to determine what students understand and what misconceptions they may bring to class:

  • MOSART stands for Misconceptions–Oriented Standards–Based Assessment Resources for Teachers. The project is sponsored by a National Science Foundation grant to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. (Note: Check out the other resources on their site for professional development and content background.) The assessments are different from many multiple choice tests in that the questions are not designed to test students’ recall of facts and vocabulary. The questions are based on the National Science Education Standards (NSES) standards and allow students to think their way through the items.

The four assessments at the high school level address concepts in chemistry, physics, Earth science, and astronomy. (Currently, there are no biology tests for high school.) At the middle and elementary levels, the topics include physical science, life science, earth science, and astronomy/space science.

But you can’t just download the MOSART tests. Users must register (free) and complete a brief orientation. It’s online and it took me about an hour (mostly because I wanted to see all of the video segments!). This tutorial is one of the best things about this project. It guides you through a discussion of what misconceptions are, how these tests let you probe your students thinking, how/when to use the assessments (e.g., at the beginning of a course, or as a pre/post test), what you can learn from looking at the distractors students selected, and how to interpret the results. This orientation could be a good use of professional development time.

After the tutorial, you then have access to all of the tests, which are emailed to you in PDF format, along with guidelines for interpreting the results. The downloads include two versions of the test (with the same questions but in a different order) and a key that goes far beyond a traditional answer key to help you to analyze the results in terms of student (mis)understandings.

  • The Science Assessment tool is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Middle/high school level topics address concepts in life science, physical science, earth science, and the nature of science. For each topic, there are several key ideas and sub-ideas (some schools may refer to these as big ideas and essential concepts) you can match to your science curriculum. Each sub-idea has a collection of multiple-choice items to add to your test bank, and there’s a section for each item with an analysis of how students in the pilot group answered it. You must register (free) to use the site, and you can save the items you select and print them as PDF or HTML files (or copy and paste into a word processor, clicker program, or test generator).
  • PALS (Performance Assessment Links in Science) has dozens of performance assessment tasks, organized by standard (NSES), grade level, and topic. Each assessment includes a detailed description, a student handout with places to record data and observations, a scoring rubric, and the results of any formal validation. There are examples of actual student work at each of the rubric levels. This could definitely be a supplement to traditional paper-and-pencil tests.

I’d also recommend the Uncovering Student Ideas in Science  series of books from NSTA. These formative assessment probes can help you uncover student preconceptions and can be used as a pre-assessment or warm-up for a unit.

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