The Next Generation Science Standards are all about students developing the skills to work with ideas, both their own and those of others.
That means that it's not sufficient to know about something. Students have to be able to form an opinion, have an idea, to work with that idea to be able to inform themselves, and also to refine the idea over time, perhaps through experimentation or through prototyping.
This is a significant shift from traditional science instruction, one that will require changes from both teachers and students.
Changing expectations for both teachers and students to achieve a next generation model of instruction requires constant feedback and refinement.
This is why it’s important for educators to move away from summative assessments and toward formative assessments in this new next generation model of instruction.
A summative assessment is a high stakes, infrequent judgment on what a student has learned. The focus is on students repeating back what was given to them. If what the student says or writes matches what the teacher has said, then the student is considered proficient.
While it might give the teacher some insight into what the student is taking away from that unit, it's unilateral. Other than the grade, and looking at any misunderstandings in hindsight, it's not really actionable on the part of the teacher or the student. It's not something that a student can incorporate into their actions immediately, in the moment, and as a result, produce better work, get a better grade overall, and ultimately reach a higher level of performance because of the feedback they received.
This summative approach, which includes asking “what” questions, getting the facts from students, and then moving on, also doesn’t give teachers visibility on their students’ thinking or enough input about their own practices to be able to understand if they really are delivering effective instruction.
How Formative Assessments Differ from Summative Ones
This is where formative assessments come in. Formative assessments are low-stakes, frequent, and non-judgmental.
With formative assessments, teachers communicate their expectations to students and help students receive feedback that they can use in that moment to improve their work. That helps students not only engage appropriately with the skills, but also better learn what it means to be a scientist or an engineer. Fundamentally, it helps students learn what it means to learn well.
The role of formative assessment is really to make student thinking visible to both the student and the teacher.
Through formative assessments, students learn more about their skills, opinions, ideas, evidence they’ve gathered, and the arguments they're making by seeing them reflected in the questions and rigorous discourse that's coming back at them.