The Cheche Konnen project developed by Warren and Rosebery (1996) turns the attention of practicing teachers toward student meaning-making in science, especially those students whose first language is not English. Instruction capitalizes on students’ linguistic and cultural resources developed outside the school. In addition, teachers are encouraged to emphasize that the work of practicing scientists is also “populated by intentions, those of the speaker and those of others, both past and present” (p.101). Teachers seek to find points of contact between their students’ talk and reasoning and the forms of communication observed in communities of professional scientists. By conducting their own extended scientific inquiries, teachers in the Cheche Konnen project come to better understand the social and human basis of the scientific enterprise. Together, teachers conduct close study of student language by analyzing and investigating videotapes of classroom discourse. The assumption in this work is that student talk is sensible, and that the teacher’s job is to become increasingly skilled at identifying that sense and using it as the foundation for instructional moves.
As in other subjects, quality assessment in science requires, as a starting point, an understanding of what students should know and be able to do. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that the current situation in science assessment outside physics is dire. The broad but shallow coverage of science topics in current texts is mirrored in standardized assessments (including those administered for accountability purposes by the states) that touch briefly on a very wide array of concepts and topics without deeply probing student understanding of any of them. Some assessments include items designed to tap common student misconceptions, but they do not diagnose the developmental level of a student’s thinking about the topic.
The diagnosis of student understanding that would render an assessment of greater use for instruction would be difficult to achieve without narrowing the range of topics. In-depth assessment, like that done in the Force Concept Inventory (discussed above) of so many topics, would not be practical in a single assessment. The current practice of devoting no more than a few items to each of several topics means that the assessments do not capture information that teachers can use. Even worse, they may serve to reify bad practice by encouraging an instructional