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The Assessment Corner

Kathy Long, FOSS Assessment Coordinator, and Diana Vélez, FOSS Professional and Leadership Developer, The Lawrence Hall of Science
September 21, 2016 | Assessment

If we’re focusing on formative assessment, how are we supposed to give grades? The two most important reasons that FOSS focuses on formative assessment are because (1) research says that formative assessment is one of the few things that can actually improve student achievement, and (2) formative assessment practices contribute to a growth mindset that research also shows produces learners who are more successful. That said, it is still a common practice in schools to give students grades. So how do you give grades if the focus is on formative assessment?

Embedded Assessments. Most embedded assessments are part of the science notebooks students create. Notebooks need to be a place where students can express their ideas, right or wrong, with no punishment (or external reward) for doing so. Students need to be able to write what they are really thinking and not just what they think the right answer might be, even if they don’t believe it or don’t understand how it can be so. Notebooks need to remain a place that students can have private dialogues with their teachers and where they can continue to revise their ideas (as a scientist does) as more information becomes available.

If you need a grade based on the notebook, consider a derivative product. Have students create a product based on notebook entries that they have had more time to process—a piece they know they are turning in for a grade. Students turn this product in on a separate piece of paper or index card that is not part of the notebook. It could be the answer to a focus question, part of a procedure, or a report about a practice or crosscutting concept that was used in the lesson. The most important thing is that it is clearly separate from the science notebook.

Benchmark Assessments. The Survey, of course, should never be scored with a grade in mind. It is in fact, a survey—a way to find out what students know before instruction begins so that you, the teacher, can do a better job of planning the module based on students’ prior knowledge. The I-Checks, can be used for grades, but we suggest a not-so-traditional process.

Students take the I-Check, and the teacher codes them or reviews the reports from FOSSmap. The teacher then decides the best methods for providing feedback that will help students improve their thinking. After students have had the opportunity to reflect on the items and had a second chance to revise answers, they turn in the whole assessment, or perhaps just a few items to show the teacher how their thinking has changed, knowing that this second effort is what will actually be graded. The Posttest can be treated as a final grade without revision, or can be used following the same process as the I-Checks.