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ASSESSING UNDERSTANDING OF THE NATURAL WORLD The content standards call for scientific understanding of the natural world Such understanding requires knowing concepts principles laws and theories of the physical life and earth sciences as well as ideas that are common across the natural sciences That understanding includes the capacity to reason with knowledge Discerning what a student knows or how the student reasons is not possible without communication either verbal or representational a third essential component of understanding Inferences about students understanding can be based on the analysis of their performances in the science classroom and their work products Types of performances include making class or public presentations discussing science matters with peers or teachers and conducting laboratory work Products of student work include examinations journal notes written reports diagrams data sets physical and mathematical models and collections of natural objects Communication is fundamental to both performance and product-based assessments Clearly relating assessment tasks and products of student work to the valued goals of science education is integral to assessment plans Understanding takes different perspectives and is displayed at different levels of sophistication A physicists understanding of respiration might be quite different from that of a chemist just as a cell biologists understanding of respiration is quite different from that of a physician The physicist the chemist the biologist and the physician all have a highly sophisticated understanding of respiration They bring many of the same scientific principles to bear on the concept However each is likely to give greater emphasis to concepts that have special significance in their particular discipline A physicists emphasis might be on energetics with little emphasis on the organisms in which respiration takes place The physician on the other hand might emphasize respiration as it specifically applies to humans The context of application also contributes to differences in perspective The cell biologists understanding might focus on the mechanisms by which respiration occurs in the cell the
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