Determining Paths to Success: Preparing Students for Experimental Design Questions on Standardized Tests

Matthew J. Turner
Jose M. Rios, University of Washington - Tacoma Campus


Recent education reform efforts are at the forefront of educators' minds across the nation, science teachers notwithstanding. At least 48 states have developed a mandated standardized test, the majority of which also publish an individual school proficiency report. Washington State's new standardized science test is an example of such reforms efforts. The Washington Assessment of Student Learning in Science (Science WASL), which is administered at the fifth, eighth and tenth grades, specifically measures science content and process skills using questions from earth, physical, and life science courses. In addition to content knowledge, the Science WASL requires that students think critically, solve problems, apply reasoning skills, and design novel laboratory investigations. The Science WASL is one of several mandated tests that students will have to pass by the year 2010 to earn their Certificate of Academic Achievement in Washington State. Standardized science tests in other states have similar requirements, drawing both on content knowledge and the critical thinking skills necessary for designing experiments from given scenarios. This article presents a classroom-based study focused on whether the inquiry-based activities would enhance students' ability to design laboratory investigations such as those presented on the Science WASL. This task was accomplished by completing an in-depth exploration of an inquiry-based instructional unit. The goal was to determine the effectiveness of unit assignments in increasing both the students' content knowledge of the scientific method and WASL laboratory design question skills. (Contains 12 figures and 4 tables.)