struct a deeper understanding and are better able to transfer their knowledge to novel problems than students taught with a traditional curriculum. These advantages held even when the ThinkerTools group consisted of urban students who were compared with suburban counterparts, as well as middle school students compared with high school students. Of particular importance is the finding that teaching students to engage in reflective assessment—to judge how well they and their colleagues carried out an inquiry investigation—substantially improved learning gains. Not only did students come away with a deeper understanding of the inquiry process, but they also improved their content knowledge of physics. The gains were particularly striking for students who began instruction as low achievers (see Box 4.4).
New forms of instruction pose two fundamental challenges for assessment. First, since the goal of instruction emphasizes conceptual understanding and the ability to transfer knowledge to new situations, assessments are needed that capture these competences. Second, since the instructional goal is to support conceptual change, instructors need assessment tools to continually diagnose student thinking so that instruction can address students’ evolving conceptions.
With respect to the first challenge, physics teachers and researchers alike are increasingly adopting the Force Concept Inventory (see Box 4.5) developed initially by Halloun and Hestenes (1985) and later modified and published with comparison data (Hestenes et al., 1992). This instrument probes beyond the usual focus on students’ capability to solve traditional physics problems, emphasizing instead their conceptual analysis of physical situations. Rather than right or wrong answers, the inventory diagnoses student conceptions; the items and choices in the instrument are based on research about the range of thinking that students typically bring to situations featured in the test. Because it provides feedback about students’ conceptual development, it has persuaded some instructors of the need to make significant changes in their teaching (see, e.g., Mazur, 1997). Several other tests modeled after the Force Concept Inventory are currently available or under development in areas of physics beyond force and motion. One ex-