Implementing Inquiry Based Assessment in Brightview

To implement higher order assessment in Brightview given our movements towards inquiry based learning next year we need to know more about what formative assessments are appropriate in inquiry based learning and how to fairly mark inquiry summative assessments.

Firstly, there are many formative assessments which would work well in an inquiry based setting. Some examples of these are listed in Table 1.1 which has been adapted from Kruse (2012, 7-8). When selecting formative assessments in inquiry learning it is important to cater for a variety of learning styles and competencies. Providing options about how to present research provides all students with equal opportunities to showcase their understanding of the topic in a format relevant to them.

Secondly, for summative assessments, providing a clear rubric allows the same investigative and presentative flexibility whilst ensuring that all students are marked fairly based on the same outcomes. This rubric should be available for students before they commence the task.

In summation, inquiry based learning creates problems with traditional forms of assessment, however this enables more innovative, higher order thinking forms of assessment. Using higher order and authentic assessments engage students and challenge them to demonstrate their understanding. These assessments are more akin to the assessments and challenges that students will face in the workforce. Therefore whilst first appearing as a problem assessment in inquiry based learning is an asset for teachers to evaluate the depth of student understanding.

Inquiry Based Learning Enhancing Assessment

Assessment in inquiry based learning evaluates deeper learning and understanding by asking students to explore and create based on their understandings.

Check out Bloom’s Taxonomy Chart for an interactive image.

Inquiry based learning cultivates higher order thinking skills, encouraging students to create, evaluate and analyse rather than remember, understand and apply. This renders traditional information recall assessments mute and allows higher order assessments like creating and evaluating. These test understanding more thoroughly and enhance student learning. 

Ergo to truly engage the understanding of students and provide authentic learning experience assessment should involve higher order thinking skills which are cultivated in inquiry based learning. The benefit of this type of assessment and the inquiry based philosophy is that they focus on skills that are transferable to life and the workforce.

Actions for Addressing Authentic Higher Order Assessments

Creating analytical rubrics particularly for higher order summative assessments as described by Kruse (2012, p 54) allows students to have the freedom to create for assessment purposes by showing them the skills and understandings that need to be demonstrated. This allows students to present information in an individualised way for example through a video or a presentation rather than a test.


Literature for Understanding Assessment

It is curious how whilst critical thinking and reasoning are at the crux of the scientific community, science education focuses on more superficial forms of summative assessment. Raizen, Baron, Champagne, Haertel, Mullis and Oakes (1989) agree with this lamenting that “Although they have a wide repertoire of approaches to assessment to draw on, including keeping record of and observing childrens’ performance in science, teachers usually model their own tests on the end-of-chapter quizzes in textbooks or on the items in standardized tests.” (pp 719). These engage only the lower order thinking skills of the students and do not demonstrate any higher order thinking or depth of understanding amongst students. It is this area where inquiry learning really distinguishes itself. Whilst traditional assessment forms are difficult to implement in an inquiry based classroom, inquiry based learning lends itself to assessment of higher order thinking skills.

We can use Blooms Taxonomy to assess the depth of assessments, whether it engages higher or lower order thinking skills. Airasian and Miranda (2002, p 249) state that “Regarding assessment, the two-dimensional Taxonomy Table emphasizes the need for assessment practices to extend beyond discrete bits of knowledge and individual cognitive processes to focus on more complex aspects of learning and thinking”.

For assessment to truly judge the depth of understanding of students we should be aiming for these higher order cognitive assessments. Airasian and Miranda (2002, p 249) believe that “Knowledge of cognitive strategies, cognitive tasks, and self not only requires different ways of thinking about assessment, but, in the latter case, reintroduces the need to engage in affective assessment”. 

Authentic Assessment is gaining popularity, it is best described by Wiggens (1992, p 27) when he argued that “it is important to properly contextualise the assessment task. The aim is to invent an authentic simulation, and like all simulations, case studies, or experiental exercises the task must be rich in contextual detail. A context is rich if it supports multiple approaches, styles, and solutions and requires good judgments in achieving an effective result”. Traditional “test-based” assessments inhibit higher order thinking as they focus on recall and knowledge whilst neglecting higher order thinking like applying knowledge and creating.

Experience of Assessment on Practicum

During practicum I evolved my assessment strategies to be higher order to fit with the inquiry based teaching approach. In the beginning I attempted some of my old assessment forms including a diagnostic jeopardy game and a multiple choice quiz. These were very superficial and did not measure more than the recall ability of my students.

Space Quiz 1 Space Quiz 2

Over time I developed assessments which were more about explaining and evaluating.

Tides Worksheet

By the end of practicum I was setting tasks which were challenging students to make wind turbines more efficient. This last form of assessment was very engaging for students and tested a very wide range of skills and understandings. It involved higher order thinking skills such as creating wind turbines which is the highest run in the Blooms taxonomy triangle.

Independent Investigation 1Independent Investigation 2

The Main Features of Assessment

Continual and thorough assessment is the key to facilitating an effective and instantaneous feedback system between students and the teacher. There are many types of assessment which depend heavily on the purpose of the assessment from informal to formal assessment, peer and self assessment and formative and summative assessment. Assessment is also influenced heavily by teaching strategy as I discovered on practicum.

In the classroom assessments enable the teacher to gather information pertinent to evaluating the understanding of the students. Assessments may provide this information qualitatively or quantitatively and focus on various educational outcomes and knowledge. There are many methods for conducting assessment and may serve a variety of purposes as identified by Doran, Lawrenz and Helgeson (1994) including diagnostic, formative and/or summative purposes. These purposes affect what the information gathered is used for.

The incompatibility of certain assessment types and new teaching strategies is explained by Mayer and Richmond (1982) “evaluation efforts have typically focused on assessment of the degree of student growth of knowledge, and, more recently, on student changes in science-process ability and in attitudes” (pp. 49-50). Traditional pen-and-paper tests did not suit the inquiry focus of my practicum school. There existed appropriate summative assessments for this inquiry based learning but no agreed formative assessments between staff members.

Check out Main Ideas of Assessment for an interactive image.

Context from Professional Experience

Whilst at my practicum school I noticed the nature of national standardized testing and lamented over the disruption to normal class programs that this initiated. My space unit with year 8 was disrupted for a week as we prepared the students for ESSA. The management at the school rated the results of ESSA very highly when evaluating the effectiveness of the staff at the school so the entire staff felt pressured into devoting valuable lesson time to prepare for this test. Stiggins (1988) agrees with this when he noted that “nationalized standardized tests, statewide assessments, and of measurement driven instruction, we are failing to address the central issue in school assessment: insuring the quality and appropriate use of teacher-directed assessment of student achievement used every day in the classroom” (p.363).