Education and knowledge assessment

Education at all levels are more often than not revolving concepts such as teaching, learning, testing and assessing. Of the mentioned concepts teaching and learning are those that historically have attracted the most attention from educational organizations. It is common that educational organizations ponder upon how their teachers can teach more and sometimes also if they can teach in new, innovative and perhaps better ways. Another typical issue that professional educational organizations are preoccupied with is whether their pupils or students are learning anything from what is being taught. Hence, quality orientated educational organizations have an interest in learning outcomes. Insight into whether or not our students are learning something, at all, requires some kind of measurement or knowledge assessment.

Webb (2002), using his “Depth of Knowledge” model, divides cognitive complexity into four levels. Names and descriptions associated with each complexity level vary somewhat across content areas, with these being the ones used in science education:

  • Level 1—Recall and reproduction. Requires rote responses, such as recall of facts, terms, and use of simple procedures.
  • Level 2—Skills and concepts. Requires use of some decisions as to how to approach the task, such as involved with classifying, estimating, organizing, and comparing data.
  • Level 3—Strategic thinking. Involves abstractions and tasks requiring multiple operations, such as drawing conclusions from observations, using evidence to develop a logical argument, and using existing procedures to solve new problems.
  • Level 4—Extended thinking. Involves making multiple connections between ideas, often over an extended period of time, such as carrying out a scientific investigation beginning with specifying the problem and planning the experiment through analyzing data from the experiment and forming conclusions.

Webb’s Depth of Knowledge model is used to align assessments with curricula in a variety of statewide testing programs and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (for example, see Webb, Herman, & Webb, 2006).

Assessing Prior Knowledge

Students come to the classroom with a broad range of pre-existing knowledge, skills, beliefs, and attitudes, which influence how they attend, interpret and organize in-coming information.  How they process and integrate new information will, in turn, affect how they remember, think, apply, and create new knowledge.  Since new knowledge and skill is dependent on pre-existing knowledge and skill, knowing what students know and can do when they come into the classroom or before they begin a new topic of study, can help us craft instructional activities that build off of student strengths and acknowledge and address their weaknesses.