Simulations Signal a New Era in Science Assessment

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Students taking a standardized science test might read a passage describing an underwater ecosystem and then answer a series of related multiple choice questions. One day soon, students could be asked, instead, to demonstrate how well they understand the way an underwater ecosystem works.

Students would respond using computer-based simulation activities—making observations, inferring relationships, predicting outcomes, and analyzing data about the ecosystem. In short, they would use scientific inquiry.

This type of test question might require students to design an experiment to determine what would happen if too many of a particular species of fish were introduced into the ecosystem, or to predict how pollution or global warming would affect the system over time.

As part of their investigation, students would be able to observe various organisms and their interactions, create food webs, and explore and graph population models.

SimScientists is developing such science test formats—prototypes that will usher in a new era of computer-based assessment. The program encompasses five separate research projects, all on the role science simulations can play in improving middle school science instruction and assessment, and the optimum design of such simulations.

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