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#ASEchat 110 Assessment of Practical Work

With @MaryUYSEG and @A_Weatherall

The need to discuss this topic was triggered by the DfE consultation on GCSE criteria. @MaryUYSEG wrote about some of the issues related to assessing practical work on the York Science blog. She posed some questions for discussion.

  • do you support the idea of a list of required practicals in the specification that could be form the context for questions in written papers? if you do what practicals would you include?
  • do you support the retention of investigations to be marked by teachers? If you do, what sort of investigation is worthwhile? If not why not?
  • how could the sort of practical competencies as listed in AO4 be assessed? would you include specific competencies in the list or keep it generic? would it matter if everyone scored full marks?

The chat discussed some of these and other related issues.

Do you support the idea of a list of required practicals in the specification?

There was some positive support for the idea of listing practicals in the specification that could then form the basis of assessment in the written papers.

Whilst there was support for such a list, there were also caveats, for example, the list:

  • should not be too specific about the experiment – for example ‘investigate rate of osmosis in plant tissue’ but not set the variables that should be investigated
  • must relate to the content of the specification
  • must have in mind the apparatus requirements – not too costly
  • could include techniques to be mastered, e.g. handling equipment accurately and safely
  • should include observation activities, not just measurement
  • must reflect the differences between physics, chemistry and biology

There was support for the idea of assessing practical work through written papers with some discussion of sort of questions might be asked in the exam – @DrDav made the point that awarding organisations will need to time to develop and trial questions. The questions need to be written so that a student who has done the practical has a better opportunity to score well than one who has only been told about it.

@Bio_Joe  linked this to the current Edexcel A level biology, where there are some core practicals that all students are expected to carry out. . He suggested some biology topics to include in such a list: Microscopy, Osmosis, Environmental, Microbes, Enzymes, Pulse; Breathing Rate, Food Tests, photosynthesis, respiration, germination.

Do you support the retention of investigations to be marked by teachers? Nobody supported keeping teacher-marking of investigations for GCSE. There is a feeling that investigations should be carried out, but that  questions in the examination can be used to assess students understanding of the principle ideas behind doing an investigation. ‘Assess understanding in exams and save teachers the marking load. ’, @Ange_K1. This would remove the pressure on teachers to ensure students scored the maximum mark, ‘we shouldn't put teachers in a situation to 'fudge' results’ - @hrogerson.  It would also allow a greater range of investigations to be carried out, rather than the narrow range which were used for the Sc1 investigations used in GCSE Sciences up to 2006.

Would it matter if everyone scored full marks on a set of competencies? This question prompts the question ‘is there any point in assessing something that yields full marks for all students and doesn’t provide any differentiation?’ How could we measure practical competencies without putting teachers under pressure to give everyone full marks, and without gaming the system? @bethapj suggested that  if it doesn’t differentiate it could be used as a 'gateway' everyone has to achieve achieve a certain level of competence before entering the exam.  

@ViciaScience asked Should an assessment of practical work form part of every science GCSE?  The consensus was that practical work (whatever that means – see #ASEChat 108) is an integral part of science, and therefore should be assessed, but not necessarily by teacher assessment. @hrogerson said that ‘I believe that (currently) assessment drives pedagogy so we should have practical assessment’  and @floorphillaz made the essential point that new assessment methods should be trialled before becoming part of the live system. @smurfatik added some insights about masuring  competencies from Swedish national tests.

@NeedhamL56 suggested that practical work is assessed to ensure it is done. There might be other ways of ensuring this -  a role of Ofqual, Ofsted or the awarding organisations in checking or the head teacher signing a declaration.

Thanks to all those who took part – I apologise if I have missed crediting your important idea. The full transcript of the chat can be found here.