Assessment Strategies
and Tools


Students who participate in Journey North are engaged in real-life investigations. They observe, gather, and analyze authentic data; grapple with problem-solving challenges; “eavesdrop” on scientists engaged in inquiry; and discuss ideas and theories. These experiences offer rich opportunities for both you and students to explore how their thinking and reasoning, grasp of concepts, and abilities develop and become more sophisticated over time.

Weaving in Continuous Assessment
This type of continuous or embedded assessment reflects an important shift from assessment that is something you do at the end to something that happens throughout the learning process. (The National Science Education Standards and other subject area standards call for this approach.) This ongoing assessment while students are engaged is a powerful teaching and learning tool that does the following:

  • Helps you decide where you need to go next with teaching.
  • Helps you and students reflect on and document their progress toward standards.
  • Develops self-directed learners.
  • Gives you a means to communicate student progress to parents and others.

To truly understand what students have learned and can do, you need to use a wide range of assessment strategies. Click here for links to specific strategies and tools. Many are best suited to assessing certain types of gains. For instance, having students design a tulip investigation helps you assess their abilities to think and act like scientists. But an informal interview about why animals migrate helps you home in on their understanding of certain concepts.

Shifting Emphasis
Most disciplines have had a significant shift in thinking about assessment. It calls for less emphasis on facts and right and wrong answers and more on students’ explanations and evidence of reasoning. Here is an excerpt of what the National Science Education Standards says about this shifting emphasis.

Less Emphasis On More Emphasis On

Assessing what is easily measured.

Assessing what is most highly valued.
Assessing discrete (isolated) knowledge. Assessing rich, well-structured knowledge.
Assessing scientific knowledge. Assessing scientific understanding and reasoning.
Assessing to learn what students do not know. Assessing to learn what students do understand.
End of term assessments by teachers. Students engaged in ongoing assessment of their work and that of others.

Involving Students (Self- and Peer-Assessments)
When students are involved in the assessment process, know what’s expected, and help set learning goals and criteria for success, they are motivated to take responsibility for their own learning.They are better able to focus on learning goals/targets and improve products and performances; they also develop an awareness of their own strengths and gaps in understanding. In doing this, they come to see themselves as competent learners.

Here are some ways in which students can assess their own progress toward learning goals:

  • Critique a sample of their own work or evaluate their understanding, abilities, behaviors, and/or thinking skills using agreed on standards and criteria for quality. This might include using a scoring tool like a checklist or rubric.
  • Select a piece of their own work they think shows their understanding of a scientific concept or their ability to conduct scientific inquiry. Explain orally or in writing how it does so.

Students can also critique the work of other students in constructive ways. This works particularly well when they evaluate others’ cooperative skills, presentations, and investigation plans and reports. Serving as critical audiences for colleagues, is, after all, an important part of what scientists do. See sample questions in Critically Reviewing Science Research.

Checklists and rubrics make good self- and peer-assessment tools. Open-ended questions work well for self-assessment, but less well with peers. In any case, you should model the self-assessment process before expecting students to apply it themselves.

The following sections describe and link to examples of
1.) assessment-related tasks and activities students will engage in and
2.) the tools you and they will use to document and “score” assessments.