The development of an inquiry skills assessment tool for Year 8 students

Year: 2019

Author: Chan, Man, Ching, Esther

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper reports findings from an empirical study which involved the development of an assessment tool to inform a Year 9 inquiry-based learning program. The learning of inquiry skills is regarded as particularly important for promoting students’ ability to carry out investigative activities using scientific methods and for encouraging students’ active investigation of a phenomenon mirroring processes used by scientists. The Victorian Science Curriculum (VCAA, 2017) has an explicit Science Inquiry Skills strand concerned with ""evaluating claims, investigating ideas, solving problems, drawing valid conclusions and developing evidence-based arguments"" (p. 7). Despite the emphasis on inquiry skills in the Australian curriculum, there does not appear to be readily available and validated tools that can be adapted by teachers to assess students’ inquiry skills in different subject areas (e.g., science and history). As a consequence, the implementation of this aspect of the curriculum is being seriously restricted by the lack of a suitable instrument by which teachers might identify student preparedness for inquiry-based instruction and measure their success in developing the associated skills.

The assessment tool reported in this paper was designed to examine the skills level of Year 8 students (13- to 14-year-olds) before they undertake a learning inquiry program in Year 9 on sustainability issues. The measure contains a mixture of open-ended and closed-ended questions which were administered to 164 Year 8 students in a secondary school in Melbourne, Australia. The assessment tool development approach drew upon the work of Wilson (2005) and comprised an iterative process of defining the construct of interest, differentiating different levels of performance, creating items that target the different performance levels, collecting assessment responses, analysing the data using a psychometric model, and comparing the results with the initially hypothesised performance levels. The approach allowed the construct of interest to be operationalised and translated as differentiated levels of student performance.

An examination of the students’ assessment responses and feedback from teachers suggest the development of the inquiry skills assessment tool was particularly useful for assisting the school with identifying the learning needs of their students for undertaking the learning inquiry program. The differentiation of levels of student responses (Pre-concrete, Concrete, Abstract, etc.) in terms of sophistication in their epistemic cognition can help teachers to target their teaching to meet the learning needs of the students. The findings demonstrate the usefulness of the measure development approach for shaping the construct of interest and informing teaching through assessment.