Publications & Resources

Assessment and Instruction in the Science Classroom

Nov 1996

Gail P. Baxter, Anastasia D. Elder, and Robert Glaser

Findings from this study of fifth grade students provided further evidence that critical differences exist between students who think and reason well with their knowledge and those who do not. In the study, students received six mystery boxes and were asked to identify the contents by making the components into circuits. The research team found that students who displayed consistently high levels of learning and understanding were able to describe a comprehensive plan for an experiment. Further, these same students demonstrated an efficient approach to problem-solving which included the use of scientific principles. In contrast, lower-performing students invoked a trial-and-error strategy of “hook something up and see what happens” to guide their experiments. Only 20% of the students performed at high levels, suggesting that even low ability students could complete a problem without understanding the processes or principles involved. The researchers concluded that “Strategies for how to represent problems must be taught as well as strategies for how to solve problems.” They suggest that teachers use performance assessments, such as this science experiment, to integrate instruction, assessment, and high levels of student learning.

Baxter, G. P., Elder, A. D., & Glaser, R. (1996). Assessment and instruction in the science classroom (CSE Report 418). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).