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Classroom Assessment Techniques

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Timothy F. Slater
Department of Physics
Montana State University

Timothy F. Slater
Timothy F. Slater While I was a graduate teaching assistant in astronomy, I sympathized with students who told me that there were two ways of taking college science classes. One was to learn and understand the material and the other was to get an "A." The students well understood that the most productive strategy for getting a high grade in most introductory science courses involved memorizing the notes from lecture, working enough homework problems so that the proper algorithm could be applied to the corresponding problem on exams, and subsequently forget everything they had temporarily memorized.

Eventually, I began to understand for myself that I was not going to take a multiple-choice examination to pass my Ph.D. defense anymore than my tenure and promotion as a faculty member would depend on how many facts I had memorized. I realized that what I loved about doing science was DOING science and focusing on the aspects most interesting to me. About that same time, the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) began to extol the virtues of alternative assessments as a way of moving students beyond memorizing procedures and motivating them to understand concepts. I began exploring ways to adapt the procedures already well understood in the fine arts areas (photographers always have a portfolio) to the excitement of scientific inquiry. Over the years, I have used portfolios at a variety of levels of seriousness; even at one point discarding examinations in total. I now believe that, in the same way that students must actively construct their own knowledge with considerable mental effort, the creation of portfolios support student-centered instruction better than any short-duration examination that I can imagine.

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