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Science assessment tools

The New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) has developed three tools to support the science learning of students in New Zealand schools. Two of these tools are standardised assessments to which schools subscribe to use. Science: Thinking with Evidence (STwE) is for year levels 7–10 and Junior Science: Thinking with Evidence (Junior Science) is for years levels 4–6. The third tool is the Science Engagement Survey, a non-standardised survey for years 0–10 that is free to access. All three are available from the NZCER website.

When do you use them?

Although STwE and Junior Science can be administered individually, it is common practice to test a group at the same time. Reports can be automatically generated if the tests are completed on-line. Available report formats include both group comparison data and individual progress information. There is flexibility about when to test. Schools’ purpose for choosing the assessment and their use of the data will inform the time of the year that it is most appropriate to test students.

The Science Engagement Survey tool provides a useful starting point for designing a science programme that is responsive to students’ interests and needs.

What do they give you?

Both STwE and Junior Science emphasise formative assessment. Information is provided about likely reasons for response patterns and potential learning challenges teachers might want to address. Items from all four STwE tests are located on one common scale – different students could work on different tests yet be compared on this scale. The three Junior Science tests also share one common scale. As yet, no work has been done to align the STwE and Junior Science scales so that direct comparisons can be made between results generated by these two tools. However within each range of year levels (i.e. 4–6 and 7–10) the common scale can be used to track student, class, and year group progress over time. Using scale scores to measure gains in students’ science thinking capabilities can indicate both strengths and needs to address.

The Science Engagement Survey tool generates a report that collates responses from all the students in one class. Results can be compared with other classes in the school, but not with a wider data set from different schools.

Points to consider

STwE and Junior Science generate standardised data about achievement that can be used to track students’ progress in developing their science thinking capabilities over time.

The Science Engagement Survey tool is free but only provides a point-in-time snapshot of what students think about their science learning.

An overview of the science tools:

Science Thinking with Evidence (STwE) comprises four tests for Years 7–10. Each 50–60 minute test can be completed on paper or on-line. The questions are multi-choice and focus on students’ ability to use the provided stimulus materials to demonstrate aspects of thinking related to the Nature of Science (NOS) strand of the New Zealand curriculum.

Junior Science Thinking with Evidence (Junior Science) is for years 4-6 and can only be completed on-line. Each 40–50 minute test uses a range of short response question types (drag and drop, sorting, hot spots as well as some multiple-choice questions). The focus is on students’ ability to use the provided stimulus materials to demonstrate aspects of their science capabilities, which model ways to weave the NOS into the curriculum.  

The Science Engagement Survey includes two on-line surveys – one for years 0–4 and one for years 5–10. The emphasis is on the student’s perceptions about their opportunities to learn science. Teachers can read the survey items aloud if this helps their students to access the content. Pictures are used to support the meaning of items in the year 0–4 survey.

More information is available on the NZCER website or you can email scienceeducationteam@nzcer.org.nz.