Understanding what children do and don’t understand about the science they are learning is critically important for guiding their instruction, and for evaluating the effectiveness of instructional approaches. Formative assessment is the process of measuring science knowledge in order to provide immediate feedback to students and teachers about what students do and don’t understand and what misconceptions they may have. Summative assessment is the process of evaluating what students have learned about a given topic, by measure science knowledge before instruction begins, and after instruction concludes. BLT uses both formative and summative assessments in the My Science Tutor and MindStars Books projects. BLT is also conducting research to compare spoken verses written assessments of science.
In My Science Tutor, the virtual tutor Marni continuously assesses students’ understanding of the science being discussed during tutorial dialogs by analyzing students’ say in response to her questions. Marni questions about the science presented in media are designed to elicit explanations of specific science concepts. After the student responds to a question, Marni evaluates the student’s speech to determine they have correctly explained any of the targeted concepts, and asks follow-on questions that scaffold learning and help students explain the science. Thus, assessment of students’ science understanding is continuous, and is used with the dialog to inform instruction. Summative assessment is used in the MyST project to assess learning gains over the course of the treatment (e.g., a set of sixteen 15-minute dialogs, by administering a set of questions before and after the treatment, and comparing learning gains to other students who received human tutoring, or students who did not receive tutoring.
BLT is also conducting research under an NSF Prime grant to compare spoken verses written assessments of science. In this study, we first evaluate students’ reading proficiency, using a standard measure of oral reading fluency—the number of words the student reads correctly from a grade level text in one minute. We then present the students with either written questions and answer choices, or questions and answer choices that Marni reads to the student, about science they learned in the classroom. The hypothesis is that students who have difficulty reading questions and answer choices will benefit from spoken assessments.