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Education - An Overview of NSF Research
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Photo, caption follows:

A fourth grader at the Glenallen Elementary School in Silver Spring, MD, searches for microorganisms from the leaves she placed in a pond adjacent to the school several days earlier. Her teacher Kristi Cameron won a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching in 2001 for the pond project. The National Science Foundation administers the awards.
Credit: Barry Myers


How Do We Measure and Evaluate Learning?
Educators are developing a more sophisticated understanding of not only learning, but how to assess it. Testing of students as part of school district and state accountability systems is now standard practice across the nation. Educators, test developers and the public have an interest in ensuring the tests don't just test "what's easy to measure," but assess a student's understanding of important and complex ideas. New techniques improve the quality of measurement and technology, especially simulations, permitting educators to gauge students' understanding of more complex concepts.

The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), conducted every four years to compare achievement of U.S. elementary level students with those in other countries, reveals that fourth-grade students in the United States outperform some of their international counterparts at answering a combination of fact-based and theoretical questions. Middle school students in the United States, however, do not fare as well internationally. Results of a new TIMSS study, released in December 2004, provide U.S. educators and policymakers with information to guide how U.S. math and science education programs might be structured to address future needs.

A recent National Research Council synthesis of research identifying promising new directions in assessing student learning was published in their report, Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Educational Assessment (2001). (link) Commissioned by NSF, the report reviews current knowledge about assessments in the classroom and in district or larger-scale settings. The report calls for establishing a foundation to emphasize how knowledge is represented, organized and intellectually processed, as well as social practices that support knowing and understanding. It describes the state-of-the-art in assessments and recommends new directions for research, policy and practice.

Entirely new assessments are being created for college-level students in mathematics, science and engineering. For example, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a student assessment for college chemistry that integrates the big ideas of chemistry into a single framework. It provides a basis for judging student achievement and identifying deficiencies.

Other research efforts now underway are attempting to make national assessments more useful to daily classroom practices of elementary and secondary level teachers. Researchers are also looking beyond national assessments to improve teaching by creating classroom practices that involve students themselves in daily assessment routines.

How does technology affect learning? [Next]