Assessment - looking at children’s work in science

Work samples, portfolios and projects

The collection of samples of the children’s work in portfolios provides one of the most important tools of assessment in science and SESE. The portfolio should contain samples of work that reflect a wide range of tasks which may be compiled by the teacher or older child, enabling balanced monitoring of the child’s progress in knowledge and skills to be made in the context of the scientific topics with which he/she is familiar. Samples may be maintained by the child and/or teacher in simple folders or wallets.
Science copybooks, diaries, audio tapes, computer disks, models and artefacts might be included in the portfolio.

If work samples, portfolios and projects are to assist teaching and learning they must remain manageable, and so only the most significant items need to be kept. Samples should be retained when they 

  • Show that particular objectives have been achieved, for example at the end of a unit of work
  • Mark significant progress in the application of a scientific skill, for example, if a child demonstrates the ability to identify some of the variables required for a fair test or can select the most relevant observations for an investigation
  • Indicate a weakness or gap in the child’s knowledge or skills, such as the poor understanding of the variety of food chains in an ecosystem
  • Indicate significantly greater progress or a breadth of understanding beyond the content of the lessons

Samples should have attached the name of the child, the date and the help, if any, the child was given in completing the task. The cumulative record of the child’s work, some of which may be selected by the child, allows the teacher to make an informed professional judgement about the child’s progress and his/her readiness for further learning experiences. It will also provide an excellent basis for reporting to parents and others. The contents of portfolios can form the basis of end-of term displays for parents and can inform the assessment of the child’s progress which is recorded and reported on pupil records or pupil profiles.

Portfolios also have a role to play in helping the teacher to review and evaluate the content, methodologies and approaches which he/she has used over a term or year. Work samples which demonstrate the effectiveness of particular approaches or weaknesses in children’s learning provide important information for the planning of future work. The analysis of portfolios from a range of children and classes by groups of co-operating teachers could lead to the sharing of teaching experience and the development of a common approach to the assessment of science within the school. It may also enhance the reliability of pupil assessment.