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Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning
consultants, or access to laboratories for field trips. The local media may be interested in a story that features a local innovation consistent with national improvement efforts. By stressing the acquisition of fundamental science knowledge through inquiry, administrators can avoid creating the image that inquiry is about exploring any interesting idea or simply the latest fad on the educational scene.
Student assessment proceduresaligned with the outcomes ofinquiry. Students and parents quickly judge what is valued by the tests and grading system the teachers and the schools use, and they adjust their behavior accordingly. If the inquiry activities and investigations are simply interludes between memorizing material from the text and other sources, the motivation to acquire inquiry-based abilities will be limited. If a teacher’s tests and those required by the school do not assess the abilities and understanding of inquiry or, for that matter, the deep understanding of science concepts, students and parents may wonder why time is being spent on inquiry.
To avoid these pitfalls, administrators can encourage teachers to communicate clearly to students and parents what they expect students in their classes to know and be able to do and how they will assess and grade them. Teachers should be encouraged to use the kinds of classroom assessments described in Chapter 4, to embed their assessments in instruction, to consider how students’ language development influences assessment results if they teach English language-learners, and to use assessments to inform both their immediate responses to students and their ongoing designs for instruction. Administrators can review the quality of the inquiry used in a class as well as students’ mastery of subject matter. Do teachers include questions on their quizzes (in the grades and courses where this is appropriate) and use hands-on assessment tasks to measure inquiry abilities? Assessments of inquiry are a very useful topic for teacher study groups and for action research projects.
If tests are mandated by the district or state, what is their impact on teachers? If the tests do not measure inquiry, how can the requirement or the nature of the tests be modified? Changing the policies involved is a tall order but well worth the effort. Many administrators and teachers are ready and willing to join in this task.
Until such changes can be made, administrators need to be open about the fact that the tests only measure a portion of the science objectives or standards. And students who achieve a deep understanding of science content through inquiry usually do well on conventional tests (Bransford et al., 1999).