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.