Publications & Resources

On Concept Maps as Potential “Authentic” Assessments in Science

Aug 1994

Richard J. Shavelson, Heather Lang, and Bridget Lewin

“Using concept maps as an assessment tool will urge educators to teach students more than simple facts and concepts, but how different concepts relate to each other. An evaluational tool such as concept mapping urges the individual to think on a deeper cognitive level than a `fill-in the blank’ test would require. There is value in both assessment tools-neither should be ignored. Fourth-grade teacher The preceding statement from On Concept Maps as Potential “Authentic” Assessments in Science points to the multiple expected benefits from the use of concept maps as alternative assessments. In this report, CRESST researchers Richard Shavelson, Heather Lang, and Bridget Lewin, explore concept mapping issues as an assessment technique exploring questions related to validity and reliability of student scores. The authors begin with a clear definition of concept mapping: “A concept map,” write the authors “constructed by a student, is a graph consisting of nodes representing concepts and labeled lines denoting the relation between a pair of nodes (concepts).” Based on an extensive review of concept map usage, the authors found that concept map techniques differed widely. “No less than 128 possible variations were identified” say the authors. “Methods for scoring maps varied almost as widely, from the admonition `don’t score maps’ to a detailed scoring system for hierarchical maps.” The researchers’ review led to the conclusion that an integrative “working” cognitive theory is needed to begin to limit this great variation for alternative assessment purposes. “Such a theory,” conclude the authors, “would also serve as a basis for much needed psychometric studies of the reliability and construct validity of concept maps since such studies are almost nonexistent in the literature.” The review presents issues arising from large-scale use of mapping techniques, including the importance of students’ skills in using concept maps, and the possible negative impact of teachers teaching to the assessment if students have to memorize concept maps provided by textbooks or themselves.

Shavelson, R. J., Lang, H., & Lewin, B. (1994). On concept maps as potential authentic assessments in science (CSE Report 388). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).