Using Educative Assessments to Support Science Teaching for Middle School English-language Learners

Mar. 01, 2013

Source: Journal of Science Teacher Education, Vol. 24, Iss. 2, (March, 2013), p. 347–366.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The authors propose that educative assessment materials that highlight students’ science writing can provide a framework to help teachers evaluate the growth of their students’ science understanding.
One goal of this research has been to develop new instruments to study the relationships between how students make meaning of science inquiry practices, science content understanding, and the linguistic genre of science classroom communication.

A second goal of this project has been to support teachers in using this written assessment for the educative purpose of refining their diagnostic abilities for evaluating and then fostering their students’ oral and written academic language development.

The authors specifically consider the following two research questions:
1. What are the qualities of an educative assessment that can support teachers in diagnosing their students’ emergent understandings of science inquiry practices, science content knowledge, and the linguistic genre of science classroom communication?
2. How can students’ responses on an educative assessment guide teachers in refining their classroom practices to better support students in expressing their understandings of science inquiry practices and science content knowledge using the linguistic genre of science classroom communication?

LISELL Participants
During the 2010–2011 school year, the professional learning component of the LISELL project involved six schools from three Georgia school districts, with 11 participating teachers across grades 4-8.
Data Collection and Analysis
The LISELL educative assessment was administered at the start and the end of the school year to a total of 969 student participants in 11 teachers’ classrooms.
In addition to the student assessments, focus group interviews were conducted with all participating teachers as part of our professional learning workshops.


Educative Features that Support Teachers in Diagnosing Student Understanding
The authors identified three educative features of this assessment that seemed both valuable to teachers and worthy of further study.
First, the assessment items provided several forms of scaffolding to support students’ written responses.
A second educative component of this assessment was the way in which the scoring rubrics assessed each item on the three constructs of inquiry practices, the progression of student language use in science from everyday language to academic language, and the specific science content knowledge necessary to fully respond to the question.
A third educative component of the LISELL assessment that was the English/Spanish bilingual format.

When taken together, these three educative components of our assessment provided project teachers with a rich array of tools for diagnosing their students’ emergent understandings of science inquiry practices, science content knowledge, and the linguistic genre of science classroom communication.

Teachers Using the Assessment Results to Guide Their Classroom Practices
The authors noted two main ways that teachers began to make instructional decisions based on considering their students’ responses on the educative assessments.
Further, in both of these cases, project teachers suggested changes and worked with the research team to revise and elaborate project-created classroom materials to better address student needs based on insights they gained about their students from considering responses on these assessments.

These two examples of scaffolding student knowledge of general academic vocabulary and key science inquiry practices highlight powerful cases of teachers gaining insights from their analysis of their students’ responses on a carefully constructed educative assessment that led to concrete changes in their classroom practices.


The authors' experiences developing and implementing these two aspects of the LISELL project have implications for theory, research, and practice in how to support teachers’ and students’ engagement with language-rich science inquiry.

From a theory perspective, this work lends further support to two sets of theoretical ideas regarding the linguistic demands of science learning, and the role that educative assessments might play in making these demands visible.
Thus, learning to use the language of science is intertwined with learning to think scientifically, and this is a skill that takes years to develop.
Constructed response assessments, both formative and summative, administered over time can help educators and researchers to better understand this growth.

From a research perspective, this work may contribute to other studies of how students begin to make meaning of and apply the practices of science inquiry, and particularly, how researchers and educators conceptualize their ideas about the intersection of inquiry practices and language practices.
Finally, from a practice perspective, the authors see their own professional learning work with teachers in the LISELL project as ongoing field testing of the claims regarding theory and research.

Updated: Apr. 08, 2014