What about Language While Equitably Assessing Science?: Case Studies of Preservice Teachers’ Evolving Expertise

From Section:
Professional Development
May. 01, 2013

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, 32 (May, 2013), p. 1-11.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The goal of this article was to explore the ways in which language played a role in the teachers’ evolving expertise and enactment of equitable science assessment.
The author addressed to the following research questions:
1. How does the role of language figure into teachers’ expertise at equitable science assessment throughout the course of their teacher education program?
2. How do the teachers address language while assessing science during a culminating teaching practicum event?

The author analyzed the assessment expertise of 3 secondary science preservice teachers, who studied in teacher education program at Hacienda University - located in the State of California in the United States.
Data were collected through surveys, interviews, program artifacts, and classroom observation.


The findings revealed that the teachers became more knowledgeable about the role of language in assessment and incorporated scientific discourse while assessing in their teaching practicum.
They incorporated some form of scientific discourse, such as through written predictions, group discussion around prompts, and scientific explanations

Yet, the teachers did not adopt a permanent and individualized stance toward how to address language while assessing, instead straddling opposing decisions.
The author referred to this straddling as a “tension.”
Two tensions emerged, which inform the preparation of future science teachers:
(a) should language demands of science assessment be reduced or scaffolded and
(b) should language use in science as well as scientific understanding be assessed?

Tension 1: reduce language demands of science assessment or scaffold them?
Early in the program, all three teachers wanted to reduce what students have to do with language in assessment.
Throughout the program, the teachers explicated knowledge of practices, which, albeit with mixed evidence, could reduce language demands of science assessment: simplifying the language, but not the content of assessment items, allowing dictionaries or glossaries, and providing oral, in addition to written, instructions.
On the other hand, the teachers demonstrated ways to assess science equitably through language scaffolding.
These practices afforded Language Minorities (LMs) with opportunities to demonstrate what they knew via oral and written scientific discourse, instead of assuming that students could not talk or write science due to their limited language proficiency.

Tension 2: assess language use in addition to conceptual understanding?
The three participants understood how LMs need to develop English proficiency as they learn science.
Yet, they limited their interpretation of student work to just conceptual understanding.
The teachers may not have fully adopted the position that they should be assessing language in science, and/or did not understand what features of language they should look for in student responses and how integrate those features in a rubric.

Implications for teacher educators

The author argues that teacher educators can facilitate novice teachers’ expertise through opportunities to observe, analyze, and experience explicit models of effective instructional approaches, as well as opportunities to practice instructional approaches with the student population they are being prepared to teach.

Preservice teachers would observe how language takes form and functions in each case - written texts, discipline specific discourses, and particular forms of communication.

Once preservice teachers acquire some foundational knowledge about assessment, language, and equity, they may begin to wonder whether (and how) to assess language use in addition to conceptual understanding and whether to reduce language demands of assessment or scaffold them.

Updated: Dec. 23, 2019
Case studies | Evaluation | Expertise | Practicum | Preservice teacher education | Preservice teachers | Science teachers