Transforming assessments by using scientific practices to make students’ thinking visible
The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recently noted, “The first two years of college are the most critical to the retention and recruitment of STEM majors” and further asserted “STEM courses during the first two years of college have an enormous effect on the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of future K-12 teachers.” At our university, we have responded to this call and to the Vision and Change report to transform our gateway courses in biology, chemistry, and physics based on the principle that students should learn both the content and practices of science – a notable shift from most current approaches in introductory STEM courses. Our transformation followed the approaches used in the Framework for K-12 Science Education and the corresponding Next Generation Science Standards that focus on three-dimensional learning of scientific practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. Here we report the transformation of one course, introductory biology (Organisms and Populations), and how we assessed these three dimensions of student learning in ecology and evolution using two different, but related instruments.
At the institutional level, with funding from the AAU, we developed the Three-Dimensional Learning Assessment Protocol (3D-LAP) to characterize assessments. It has two purposes: (1) to characterize the extent to which formative and summative assessments are aligned with three-dimensional learning and (2) to guide the redesign of current assessment items to provide explicit evidence that makes student thinking visible. We demonstrated the utility of this protocol by using it to characterize the difference between exam questions, to characterize the difference between exams, and to help revise previously existing assessment items. We evaluated introductory biology assessments of ecology and evolution using the practices of science (modeling, argument, and quantitative reasoning) and the 3D-LAP, and used these data to evaluate students’ progress over time.
Both the 3D-LAP and science practices instrument can be used to characterize the extent to which course assessments incorporate core ideas, crosscutting concepts and science practices. We describe how these two protocols can be used by instructors to revise their exam questions to align more with three-dimensional learning. Both instruments are relatively easy to use and we believe that the most important use is to help faculty design or redesign assessments that make student thinking visible and to drive the next iteration of their curriculum with evidence.