Friday, April 11, 2008

NSTA's science classrooms: havens for unscientific assessment

After this week's Lorax Debacle, I met with my autistic son's science teacher to discuss his grades. She was quick to cite the new standards of the NSTA (National Science Teachers Association).

So I checked these out, and came across the following assessment guidelines:


Assessing what is easily measured Assessing what is most highly valued

Assessing discrete knowledge Assessing rich, well-structured knowledge

Assessing scientific knowledge Assessing scientific understanding and reasoning

Assessing to learn what students Assessing to learn what students do
do not know understand

Assessing only achievement Assessing achievement and opportunity to learn

End of term assessments by teachers Students engaged in ongoing assessment of
their work and that of others

Development of external assessments by Teachers involved in the development
measurement experts alone of external assessments

Along every dimension, a shift from objective and easily measurable to subjective and ill-defined. From "measured" to "valued"; from "discrete" to "rich, well-structured"; from "know" to "understand"; from achievement pure and simple to achievement plus "opportunity to learn"; from assessment by teachers to assessment by students; from external tests developed by disinterested parties to tests that include input from those (teachers) who are anything but.

Factor in the notoriously poor content-area training of most science teachers, and the NSTA's emphasis on...

The ability to inquire.
The ability to use science to make personal decisions and to take positions on societal issues.
The ability to communicate effectively about science.

..and you have a recipe for grades that may have less to do with a student's scientific achievement than with how well he communicates, gets along with classmates, "takes positions" that his teacher agrees with, and demonstrates curiosity during activities that all too often contain little of scientific interest.


Catherine Johnson said...

I haven't gotten around to writing about this yet, but this shift to subjective grading combined with grade deflation and/or grade compression, is death to public school kids' applications to selective private schools and universities.

Catherine Johnson said...

My school district has for many, many years based high school Honors ELA & history decisions on student writing. These assessments can't be seen or challenged by parents or students; one child is accepted into Honors courses & another child is rejected & that is that.

Meanwhile the district has not had good writing instruction and acknowledges as much.

Unfortunately, now that we have "WAC" (Writing Across the Curriculum"), implemented this school year, the school can now officially say that we do have effective writing instruction so henceforth all Honors ELA and History decisions will be based in writing.

The fact that reading level, which can be measured objectively, does predict ability to succeed in Honors level coursework has no bearing on this practice and will continue to have no bearing on this practice once I bring it up.

Catherine Johnson said...

Which I intend to do shortly.

lefty said...

How maddening!

What I'm noticing with writing is that more and more "best practices" and assessment guidelines stress "detail", "colorful words," and persuasiveness. Another subjective guideline, and one that only works if the teachers themselves are either naturally talented writers or have some actual training in writing. Which I'm guessing is rare.

Cranberry said...

Our eldest encountered this change in grading standards. Don't forget to add the "citizenship" section, in which students get grades depending on "how well they work with others." Using group projects as a main part of the science grade renders grades useless as a measure of students' actual scientific knowledge.

So ironic this would happen in science, which should be the province of the objective.