Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 5, Issue 2, Article 8 (Aug., 2004)
Winnie Wing Mui SO
Assessing primary science learning: beyond paper and pencil assessment

The important qualities of meaningful assessment

Although the suggested assessment strategies provide information about science learning that paper and pencil assessments are not able to provide, these formative assessment strategies may take time, and may look very different from the ones with which pupils and parents are familiar (Lowery, 2000). Moreover, Black (2000) finds that the effectiveness of formative feedback depends upon several detailed features of its quality, and not on its mere existence or absence. As advocated by science educators and researchers, interactive assessment, coherent assessment systems, self-assessment, peer assessment, and feedback are the most important qualities of the new types of assessment. Figure 4 shows the relationship of these important qualities in the meaningful assessment of learning.

Figure 4: The relationship of the important qualities of the meaningful assessment of learning

Interactive assessment

There are two types of formative assessment in Cowie and Bell's (1999) model: planned formative assessment and interactive assessment. The process of planned formative assessment is characterized by the teacher eliciting, interpreting, and acting on assessment information. Interactive formative assessment takes place during student-teacher interaction, which involves teachers noticing, recognizing, and responding to student thinking during this interaction. The details of interactive assessment are not planned (Bell, 2000) and cannot be anticipated, but teachers need to be prepared for interactive formative assessment, and to use teaching approaches that allow it to occur naturally.

Coherent assessment system

The information from any one assessment is one piece of the puzzle that makes up instruction (Lowery, 2000). Reinhartz and Beach (1997) further elaborate that assessment has many parts and is a gigantic puzzle that has many separate pieces. The challenge is to fit all these pieces together into a coherent assessment system. A coherent assessment system means the adoption of various methods to measure progress towards the achievement of the goals and objectives of science instruction. Atkinson and Bannister (1998) suggest that the solution to a coherent assessment system should not rely on a single form of assessment tool, as pupils can demonstrate varying levels of understanding when they respond in different modes.

Self-assessment and peer assessment

It is clear that effective formative feedback can be all pervasive (Black, 2000). Feedback takes place through written and oral questions, through the quality of classroom dialogue, and through the formulation of classroom tasks so that pupils are active enough to produce feedback evidence. However, it is also important to involve the pupils through the medium of peer assessment and self-assessment.

Peer assessment involves the cross-referencing of the evidence of the contribution of individuals to the completion of group tasks, and self-assessment involves the assessment of one’s own progress through the work process. Reinhartz and Beach (1997) state that peer assessment is important because cooperative and group work is an integral part of science learning. Peer assessment means making judgments based on individual responsibilities that are performed for the benefit of the group. Moreover, in peer assessment, pupils are aware that they are communicating to an audience, and that writing and reporting is therefore undertaken for a purpose (Lindsay & Clarke, 2001).

Lindsay and Clarke (2001) recognize and appreciate the advantages of self-assessment in the enhancement of learning. With self-assessment, pupils can use the skills of self-marking in a variety of contexts, and thus develop greater perseverance in their learning. Lindsay and Clarke further elaborate that self-marking can clarify ideas for pupils, and can help them to refine and question their own concepts. Self-assessment encourages pupils to be constantly involved in the scientific process and their role within it, and helps them to become more scientific in their enquiries. Furthermore, through self-assessment, pupils raise questions that constantly reinforce their understanding of the skills and knowledge that they are acquiring. This encourages pupils to open up new avenues of investigation.

Black and Wiliam (1998) argue that the main problem of self-assessment is that pupils can assess themselves only when they have a sufficiently clear picture of the targets that their learning is meant to reach. However, many pupils do not possess such a picture, and thus pupils should be trained in self-assessment to acquire an overview of their learning and thereby grasp what they need to do to achieve the target. Self-assessment often appears to be problematic, but it can be effective given clear guidelines. It may be combined with peer assessment and teacher assessment, or used on its own. Decisions then have to be made on whether, and in what proportion, self- and peer assessment becomes a part of the final grade. Whatever the form, these modes of assessment ensure a rich learning experience (Biggs, 1995).


Black and Wiliam (1998) suggest that tests that are given in class, and other exercises that are assigned for homework, are important means of promoting feedback. Leakey and Goldsworthy (2001) state that feedback is what teachers should aim to give pupils as part of the assessment process. However, research studies have shown that if pupils are given only marks or grades, then they do not benefit from assessment. It is thus concluded that feedback on tests and other assessment tasks should give pupils guidance on how to improve, and individual pupils should be given the assistance and opportunity to work toward improvement. Leakey and Goldsworthy (2001) highlight that the task of making the feedback meaningful and valuable can be complex and demanding, and that constructive feedback should involve the sharing of learning objectives, the advancement of the pupil thinking, and the fomentation of an ethos of trust between the teacher and the learner.


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