Conclusion 12: Ongoing assessment is an integral part of instruction that can foster student learning when appropriately designed and used regularly. Assessments, whether formative or summative, need to be responsive to the full range of proficiencies that are implied by the strands. Assessment needs to be aligned with the research on students’ thinking as well as informed by the structure of the subject matter.
Planning, evaluating, and improving the quality of science instruction is contingent on accurately assessing students’ knowledge and skills and how these develop over time. Individual teachers can conduct assessment to gauge student learning through the activities they use regularly in the course of instruction (e.g., questioning strategies, discussion, analysis of student work). Schools and school systems can administer periodic benchmarking assessments to track student learning over time and provide teachers with feedback, including suggested modifications to instruction. Well-designed assessment can have tremendous impact on students’ learning of science if conducted regularly and used by teachers to alter and improve instruction.
Conclusion 13: To create a successful science classroom, teachers need to modify and adapt curriculum materials so as to design instruction that is appropriate for a particular group of students at a particular time. Making these kinds of modifications to achieve effective instruction requires knowledge of science, knowledge of how students learn science, and knowledge of how to plan effective instruction. Many K-8 teachers have insufficient knowledge in one or all of these areas and need ongoing support to develop it.
The demands on teachers of providing effective science instruction are immense. As no curriculum can remove teacher decision making from instruction, enacting high-quality science instruction broadly will require dramatic improvements in all three areas of teacher knowledge.
First, teachers must understand the science they teach broadly and deeply, including mastery of the four strands of proficiency we have described for student learners. This broad understanding of science is not readily supported by the typical undergraduate science courses provided for aspiring teachers. Accordingly, although increasing the undergraduate science course requirements for prospective teachers may bolster teacher knowledge in some important ways, it is unlikely to provide them with sufficient understanding of science unless the courses are redesigned.