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The main purpose for assessment should always be to improve learning (Ministry of Education, 2007). The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) acknowledges that evidence for assessment for learning is often gathered informally, and “analysis and interpretation, and use of information often take place in the mind of the teacher” (p. 39). At the same time an increasing body of research suggests that assessment for learning isn’t easy for teachers (see, for example, Mansell, James, and the Assessment Reform Group (2009)).
The literature about 21st century learning argues that we need to think differently about education. Rather than simply “knowing about” things, we want students to be able to do new things with what they know. If this is the case, we need to make sure students are provided with opportunities to develop competencies to do so, and that assessment activities reflect that this is what is valued.
At the beginning of July I attended Scicon, a conference for teachers of science. One of the keynote speakers was Amanda Berry, a teacher-educator from Monash University in Victoria, Australia. Her presentation was about teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), specifically in science, but I think her ideas are relevant to other curriculum areas as well. Amanda talked about teachers’ PCK often being tacit. She believes that when teachers explicitly understand what they are doing and why, the value of their professional practice and knowledge is recognised.
The water cycle is an important context for school science, but the uncritical use of diagrams to simplify ideas may lead to misconceptions. Incorporating learning about how representations such as water cycle diagrams function, helps students to explore and understand the complexities of such a system.
NZCER is committed to developing new assessment tools for use by New Zealand schools. Here we describe three of the development projects that are currently underway that may be of interest to teachers and school managers.